Thursday, March 26, 2015

Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed, What We Do in the Shadows

                           Things We Said … Yesterday
                                                         Reviews by Ken Burke
 Except for a certain quotient of nostalgia, there’s really nothing of any substance connecting the 2 cinematic subjects under exploration in this posting so I’ll address them as separate reviews.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed (David Trueba, 2013)
Based on a real event, this is the story of Antonio, a Spanish schoolteacher in 1966, who sets out, along with a couple of young runaways, to meet his idol, John Lennon, when the famous Beatle was acting in the film, How I Won the War.  The girl’s an unwed mother, the boy’s refusing to cut his hair, and Antonio’s so star-struck he can hardly keep his car on the road.
What Happens: In 1966 Spain, still under the repressive rule of Gen. Franco (unfortunately, in a reversal of a constant mid-1970s Saturday Night Live “news” joke, here someone would have to be shouting “Generalisimo Francisco Franco is still alive!”), which leads to youth unemployment and a “general” surliness in the country, Antonio (Javier Cámara)—based on actual Juan Carrón Gañàn—an Albacete grammar/middle-school (I never was clear on that because at my age everyone under 30 looks like they’re about 12, a trait I picked up from my equally-well-traveled-wife, the lovely and talented Nina Kindblad) teacher of English (where he uses Beatles’ lyrics to help not only with vocabulary and grammar but also life lessons, especially involving “Help!”—his students call him the “fifth Beatle”; I guess they’re not aware of Stu Sutcliffe or Pete Best) and Latin, learns that John Lennon is further south in Almería filming How I Won the War (Richard Lester, 1967) so the teacher plays hooky in an attempt to meet his idol (he also wants to get a better transcription and understanding of what’s going on in the increasingly-non-Fab-Four material on Revolver [1966]).  Along the way he encounters 2 young runaways, 20-year-old Belén (Natalia de Molina), who’s slipped out of a church-run-home-for-unwed-mothers (she’s 3 ½ months pregnant) then meets up with Antonio at a highway gas station, and, later a hitchhiker, 16-year-old Juanjo (Francesc Colomer), who’s left home in response to his forceful-policeman-father’s (Jorge Sanz) abusive insistence that he cut his 1966-Beatle-length-hair (I’m sure the kid would have been long gone before if he’d even attempted to grow the flowing locks that Lennon evolved to about the time the band broke up in 1970).  The youngsters (compared to middle-aged-Antonio), having nothing better to do at the time, go along for the ride, although they’re not Beatle fanatics (Juanjo—short for Juan José—even notes that he prefers the Rolling Stones or the Kinks, at which point Antonio angrily throws him out of the car until admitting it’s just a joke) yet they have to endure Antonio’s ceaseless chattering about Lennon and his mates.  When they finally arrive at the small town close to where the film’s being shot (after having to push their dilapidated car up some of the winding hilly roads that hug the Mediterranean Sea in this area), Antonio gets separate rooms for himself and Belén at the rundown local Sol Y Mar motel, convinces Ramón (Ramon Fontserè), the owner of the local bar, to hire Juanjo for menial jobs, and sets out on his quest to be admitted to the film shoot.

 However, Antonio’s dreams are initially shot down by firm Civil Guards working as security, so no unauthorized entrance to the set is allowed.  Luckily, Antonio gets word that the film crew uses the local cinema for evening screenings of their daily rushes so he and his 2 companions sit through an afternoon matinee, then hide in the theater until the filmmakers arrive (no Lennon, though; Antonio’s had no luck with direct contact, even after locating where John and his family are staying only to flee when first-wife Cynthia [another casualty of Yoko] starts screaming and throwing pots of flowers at him) so that the star-struck-teacher can leave a note for John with one of the production team.  This actually leads to Antonio being allowed to visit the set for a private meeting with the most controversial Beatle (even prior to his union with Yoko, given the infamous “We’re more popular than Jesus now” remark, but we never see John in this film), at which he writes some of the lyrics to “Strawberry Fields Forever” in Antonio’s notebook and records an acoustic version of it on the portable reel-to-reel-tape-player that Antonio carries everywhere (Beatle songs at that time took awhile to get to Spain so he had to record them from Radio Luxembourg broadcasts, sometimes struggling with clarity of the lyrics).  As this sweet, coming-of-age (no matter how old the characters are) story concludes, Ramón calls Juanjo’s parents leading to a now-more-agreeable-father (possibly helped by the haircut his son willingly got from Belén) driving to retrieve Juanjo, with Belén going with them back to Madrid to find work there as a hair stylist (she’s quite good, even helped out a bit at the film shoot during Antonio’s meeting with Lennon) and possibly carry on a romance with the younger guy (they’ve definitely connected their heartbeats but whether her circumstances will fly with his family is left unexplored); we see the best side of our 2 hitchhikers in their interactions with Ramón’s severely-disabled-son, Bruno (Rogello Frenández); Antonio gives the tape recorder to Juanjo with the new song on it (intended as part of 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album but released as a hit single [in combo with McCartney’s also-Liverpool-memory-song, Penny Lane], instead, finally finding its way to the later 1967 Magical Mystery Tour album), then drives back home feeling fully fulfilled (John even promised to visit his classroom; whether that ever occurred with the real “Antonio”—Juan Carrón Gañàn—or even with this fictional one isn’t noted), cruising along those winding seaside roads with the beautiful Mediterranean in the background as we gracefully fade out (recalling the melancholy memory that Antonio asked Belén to marry him, mostly out of respect for her but also as an indication of his life’s sad solitude).

So What? If you’re a Beatle fan (as I’ve been since I first heard “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on KILE-AM radio in Galveston, TX in 1964 [no longer active as a Top 40 or even an Oldies format, according to my Internet search], even before the famous Ed Sullivan Show broadcast that February), then you can’t "help" but be charmed by Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed, but even if you prefer the Stones (or, dare I suggest, One Direction), I still think you’ll be as enchanted with this simple-but-heartfelt-film as were all those little-dreamy-eyed-girls that I saw at a recent screening of Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh; review in our March 19, 2015 posting).  Antonio is a sincere, passionate man who’s not ashamed of his love for the music and messages of the Beatles (especially as they get more adult and complex) nor does he take lightly the life-challenging-situations of the 2 passengers he encounters on his personal “hero-quest”; he also knows how difficult it is to find justice in his dictator-run-country back in those days (Belén’s quite serious when she tells him to not hassle the Civil Guards at the film shoot gate, knowing quite well that they’re the ones who could easily be shot if they come across as too obnoxious to these “peacekeepers”), so it disturbs him greatly when a local, beefy Almería farmer and his thuggy chums make “girly” jokes about Juanjo’s hair (I endured a bit of that myself in central Texas back in the late ‘60s, probably a long-suppressed-reason why I finally grew it out to Lennon-length of that long-ago-time a few years ago as part of my retirement celebration, as well as giving my mother something to fret about as she rolls over in her urn), then come back again to trash the bar and beat up Juanjo, so as Antonio’s driving away he makes a detour through the guy’s fields, smashing them up with his car before making a quick escape (fortunately for him, such an act isn’t followed by a flat tire and homicidal revenge as was the case in the short story The Strongest from Argentina’s Wild Tales [Damián Szifrón, 2014; review in our March 19, 2015 posting—that film actually made the 5 finalists for the recent Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, while Living Is Easy … was Spain’s entry for that competition (after winning Spain’s Goya—their Oscar—awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor [Cámara], Best New Actress [de Molina], Best Screenplay, Best Original Score [Pat Metheny]) but wasn’t one of the chosen [a tough group to crack, with winner Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski) and 2 other finalists Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev) and Timbuktu (Abderrahmane Sissako) reviewed, respectively, in our June 3, 2014 and February 26, 2015 postings]).  Speaking of awards, Living Is Easy … may earn another one if it can maintain its current 100% positive rating with Rotten Tomatoes critics, but that’s based on just 12 reviews so you might want to check back with the link far below at some later time (Metacritic gives it an unofficial 83% but based on a mere 3 reviews so that’s fully in flux as well).

The publicists didn't give me much to work with here so
this is just a group photo of the main characters (including
Juanjo's father, on the far left)
, not a scene from the film.
Bottom Line Final Comments:  Intentionally, here’s nothing dramatically-cinematic here, except for a nice use of primary-color-accents (Antonio’s green car, Belén’s red coat and red accents on a dress, red carpeting and wall trim in the movie house, a green door at the motel) against a muted-palette of the surrounding environment, underscoring the muted lives these people are living in repressive 1966 Spain.  What’s more impactful are the implications of the depicted innocence contrasted with the larger context of bitter realities.  As has been noted in some other reviews, one of the saddest aspects of Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed is seeing how well-guarded John Lennon was in Spain in 1966 but when he really needed a bodyguard to prevent crazed “fan” Mark David Chapman from firing a fatal shot on December 8, 1980 in NYC there was none there.  Anyone’s random death in circumstances like that (including a local young mother with several children in my area recently felled by a stray bullet from an all-too-common-gangland-shootout) is tragic but made all the more so to the survivors who knew the victim.  I’m sure that only a tiny fraction of those of us who still mourn the senseless loss of Lennon knew him personally (although one of my former students did grow up in Manhattan’s The Dakota as his neighbor, with her little brother as a playmate for son Sean), but we did know a lot about him through his soul-touching-music, which reverberated equally well here with Antonio, another “dreamer but not the only one.”  It’s sad to be reminded of John’s death and all that he might have shared with us had he lived longer (it’s hard to forget his one-time-throw-away-line that he didn’t want to be an “old, croaking Beatle at 40”; Chapman made sure there’d never be a reunion where that could happen, long before George Harrison died much later [2001] of lung cancer), but it’s uplifting to see how that meeting with this great artist was so grand for Antonio, a marvelously-positive-life-affirming-event, as I’m sure it must have been for the real guy this story’s based on.  As for an appropriate Musical Metaphor here, the only reasonable choice is “Strawberry Fields Forever” at com/watch?v=8RTwA3Wpo2s, the original 1967 music video for this song.  However, given that I’m offering 2 musical options in the review below I think it only appropriate to give you another one here as well, so in Antonio’s honor here’s “Help!” (from the 1965 Help! soundtrack album) at, a collage of live performances set to that record, further made fitting with Spanish subtitles to the lyrics (which might have been more helpful for Antonio, back in the day, depending on the nuances of translation from one language to another).
                      What We Do in the Shadows 
                      (Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement)
This is a mockumentary about 4 vampires of greatly-varying-ages living together in New Zealand where they squabble over mundane matters, then set out to find fun and blood in the night life of Wellington while dealing with the complexity of their interactions with a female servant and another human friend who enjoys their company, plus their ongoing struggles with a pack of werewolves.
This New Year's shot is from the year before I was born,
but as ancient as these guys are I don't feel so old now.
What Happens: In marvelously-funny-faux-documentary-style, we’re supposedly following a small film crew around Wellington, New Zealand to observe the daily (or should I say nightly, as these creatures follow the constraints of traditional movie lore) lives of 4 vampires—Viago (Taika Waititi), age 379; Deacon (Jonathan Braugh), age 183; Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), age 862; and Petyr (Ben Fransham), age 8,000—who share a flat and at times a meal when guests are enticed to their home.  We also meet their friend Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), who was supposed to be one of those meals but instead was bitten by Petyr (just as was Deacon years ago), his pal, Stu (Stu Rutherford), an ordinary human who learns of their secret existence (Nick just blurts it out at one point) but enjoys their company anyway (they all agree to leave Stu alone, just as they have with the filmmakers, although those folks tell us that they still wear crucifixes just in case), and Jackie (Jackie Van Beek), Deacon’s “familiar” (a voluntary servant because of his promise that he’ll turn her into a vampire, although he keeps delaying it [angering her because she doesn’t want to get any older], probably because he enjoys having her do all of their errands—except cleaning up the blood-stained-dishes in their kitchen, which Viago and Vladislav complain about given that it’s Deacon's housekeeping job).  As our minimal-story progresses we follow our main 3 guys as they explore Wellington night life (but because they have to be invited into any home or establishment they can’t convince the doormen at most night clubs to do such an odd thing so they usually just end up at the vampire bar), bring home dinner guests (who don’t realize that they’re the main course, which leads to hilarity when Viago’s with a woman who assumes it’s a first date but takes no notice of him spreading newspapers around to sop up the upcoming mess, which is much worse than intended because he bites into a main artery), and attend the grand party, the annual Unholy Masquerade (for vampires, ghosts, zombies, and other species of the ghastly, although werewolves aren’t welcome as they clash easily with the vampires) where Vladislav confronts his ex-girlfriend, Pauline (Elena Stejko), a witch he calls “The Beast” (we’ve been previously led to believe that this was some abominable demon) while the partiers in general are unable to contain their appetites for Stu and the filmmakers.  The humans and our 3 less-malicious “beasts” escape the party, only to be attacked by werewolves, leaving us with the assumption of Stu’s demise (Petyr’s definitely dead by now, though, because Nick’s blabbering about his new status led a vampire hunter to the flat; the intruder was killed but the basement window he broke into let in sunlight the next day, burning our exponential-octogenarian to a crisp).  Later, however, Stu shows up as a werewolf with his pack, who agree to finally make friends with the vampires.

So What? Pure absurdity abounds in What We Do in the Shadows, from the opening scene of Viago rising from his coffin reminiscent of the classic Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922) but with his perpetually-goofy grin; to Vladislav’s explanation that he became a vampire at 16 but back in those days 16 looked older than it does now; to Viago’s story that he came to New Zealand to follow Katherine (Ethel Robinson) but a shipping mistake led to such a delay that when he arrived she was married so he didn’t want to disturb her life (he hooks up with her delighted-96-year-old-self at the end, but presents himself as the “cradle-robber” despite his much-more-youthful-appearance); to the Star Wars-reminiscent-hypnotism-manipulation (“These aren't the droids you’re looking for.”) that our protagonists use on police who come to investigate neighbor complaints about strange noises and smells yet walk right through the demolished basement where the vampire-hunter’s body still lies without noting any concerns; to Deacon’s backstory that he was once a Nazi vampire until after WW II when that was no longer a trendy status; to Stu’s being a (tasty) virgin because he’s a computer programmer; to Vladislav’s frustrated look at the Masquerade when he learns that Jackie’s now a vampire (she got Nick to bite her); to the incongruous “invisibility” of the doc crew (even when following victims being chased around the flat) except when they happen to get noticed once in a while; to another hypnotist bit at the very end, telling us audience members that we’ll forget what we’ve just seen for the last 90 min., this is one marvelously-silly-ride that pokes fun at decades of movie vampire tropes, the romantic fascination of more-current-vampire tales (unlike in the Twilight series, these protagonists often come across as bumbling idiots—except for Petyr, who just looks like a grumpy corpse with long teeth and claws, again a reference to Max Schreck‘s characterization of Count Orlock in Nosferatu [with the marvelous conceit in the fictional Shadow of the Vampire (Elias Merhige, 2000) that Schreck was actually one of the “undead”]).  This is truly an it-evaporates-as-soon-as-you-hit-the-sunlight-outside-the-theater-experience (although it might have more impact at night, given all of the bloodthirsty creatures that you may now think could actually be lurking in those shadows), uproarious but so slight in concept and significance as to disappear from your memory just like a vampire’s non-appearance in a mirror (they have to tell each other how they look as they’re dressing for the nightly stroll), featuring a lot of well-structured-laughs but ultimately it's very predictable in terms of where the barely-there-plot is headed.

Bottom Line Final Comments: (Once again, not much help from the national publicists so here's another posed group shot of most of the main characters rather than a useful scene from the movie.) This is essentially funny stuff but drags a bit in places, although anytime it begins to feel like one of those interminable Saturday Night Live sketches that begins with a clever idea but just doesn’t know how to resolve itself after running on far too long, What We Do … finds a strategy to pump up the humorous aspect again so that you more easily understand why it’s gotten such strong responses from critics (a whopping 96% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, although just 75% from the usually-more-reserved-Metacritics; more details in the links below if you like).  To finish up these comments, I’ll go with a silly-monsters-memory, “The Monster Mash,” at, a 1962 hit single by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers.  You might be aware that I’ve used this twice before as a Musical Metaphor, but given the ongoing-craziness of What We Do in the Shadows it was just too much of a perfect fit not to use again; at least I’ve chosen different visual accompaniment this time where someone took Boris Karloff’s face from Black Sabbath (Mario Bava, 1963) then used computer manipulations to make it look like he’s singing the song, with a little bit of the original Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) put in at the end; however, if that’s too visually static for you, here’s another video version of the song with clips from a good number of monster movies (including some really awful-looking-ones) at
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:

We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepageIf you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

Here’s some more information about Living Is Easy With Eyes Closed: (36:38 interview with director David Trueba)

Here’s some more information about What We Do In The Shadows: (first 6 minutes of the film; gives you a great sense of the presentational style and humor involved as we meet the 4 vampire flat meeting)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wild Tales, Cinderella, and Magician: The Astounding Life and Work of Orson Welles

          Wild Pitches That Strike Home (for most audiences, it seems)
                                  Reviews by Ken Burke
 While there’s no great thematic interconnection among the 3 current films I’ve chosen to focus on this week they have an interesting commonality to me about trying something off-kilter from either our time or an earlier one:  The first to be explored, an Oscar nominee in the Foreign Language Film category, deals with stories of revenge and/or consequences that are presented in an hilarious manner but are uniformly disturbing in their contents; the second would seem to be embracing retrograde patriarchy but is packing the theaters with eager consumers, many of them the very children that are supposed to be indoctrinated along different lines of non-sexist-ideology; and the third is a documentary about one of the world’s great filmmakers although his working methods prevented him from finishing most of his projects as he envisioned them.  With that “continuity” defense in mind, let’s see what we can find in this mini-cluster of celebrations of the unexpected.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                    Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón)
Here are 6 unrelated short stories—except for their common theme of despair, with strong doses of revenge in most of these plots—that make up this Argentinian feature film where individuals and bureaucracies cause irreparable harm (for the most part) even as it’s difficult not to laugh heartily at the chance and constructed human tragedies occurring on screen.

What Happens: In a frustrated—if not cynical—manner, one could ask “What doesn’t happen?” in Wild Tales (Relatos salvajes in Spanish), where 6 unrelated cinematic short stories displaying some of the worst aspects of human behavior are presented for our guilty-pleasure-comic-enjoyment:  (1) “Pasternak”—Isabel (María Marull) boards an airplane, begins chatting with a fellow passenger, then discovers that everyone on the plane has some connection to her ex-boyfriend, Gabriel Pasternak, all in some negative capacity; to their horror, they find that he’s the Chief Steward of this flight (he also bought all of their tickets, although why they accepted the trip eluded me) who’s locked himself in the cockpit, disabling the flight crew.  His therapist makes a desperate attempt to get Pasternak to change his apparent suicide plan, telling him that all of his problems were caused by his parents—but Gabriel apparently believes this already because our final shot is of these 2 old folks stunned in their back yard as a jetliner comes hurtling toward them.
(2) “The Rats” (“Las Ratas”)—On a rainy night at an empty diner, a customer (César Bordón) enters, making sarcastic or nasty comments to the waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) who recognizes him as a gangster from her hometown whose cruel actions caused her father to commit suicide and who tried to rape her mother; the cook (Rita Cortese) wants to feed him rat poison, the waitress objects but the cook secretly does it anyway.  To confound the waitress’ confusion, the guy’s teenage son enters, starts to share the food, but she takes it away.  Dad attacks her, then is stabbed repeatedly by the cook who has no hesitation about how to dispense justice and was once in prison with no regrets about going back.  (3) “The Strongest” (“El más feurte”)—On a winding mountain road, Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia) speeds along in his luxury car until he has trouble passing Mario (Walter Donato) in his old, beat-up rig; when Diego finally does get around he tosses insults while driving away.  Later, though, Diego has a flat but before he can get the tires changed Mario catches up and begins smashing parts of Diego’s car before relieving himself on its windshield; Diego retaliates by pushing Mario’s car down a slope to the nearby river, then nearly drives off before coming back for a further attack.  Ultimately, Mario’s car ends up down the
embankment also, with both men struggling in it before it catches fire, totally burning them both to bones and ashes; when investigators arrive they declare it “a crime of passion.” (4) “Little Bomb” (“Bombita”)—Simón Fisher (Ricardo Darín), a city demolition expert, stops on the way home to get a cake for his daughter’s birthday but finds his car’s been towed while he’s in the shop, so when he goes to retrieve it with the argument that there was no indication of a no-parking-zone he gets nowhere with the attendant.  Later he complains to the city, demanding the fees be returned along with an apology, but the reply is that the ticket is all the evidence they need, no matter what he says.  He smashes the clerk’s window in anger, is arrested, which leads to being fired even as his wife files for divorce and full custody of their child.  His temper gets the better of him again while applying for another job, but even as he stalks out he finds his car towed once more (seemingly for no reason this time either), so after bailing it out he plants a bomb in the trunk which causes great damage to the tow lot when next it’s impounded.  This leads to a prison sentence; however, Simón’s now a local hero, nicknamed “Dynamite,” with the story ending on a jail visit from the now-proud-wife-and-child.  (5) “The Proposal” (“La Propuesta”)—Events unfold revealing that the son of a rich
family hit a pregnant woman with his car, then fled (her blood's still on the front license plate; both she and the baby died); the boy’s distraught but Dad Mauricio Pereyra Hamilton (Oscar Martínez)—shown in the photo with the next paragraph below—and his lawyer (Osmar Núñez) concoct a plan for the long-time-family gardener to take the rap for a payout; he agrees but then Mauricio finds that the lawyer wants a hefty fee to peddle this story, as does the prosecutor (Diego Velázquez) for going along with what he knows is a lie.  The son wants to confess, Dad’s fed up with the greed of the others, but it all gets resolved when the “justice”-keepers agree to take smaller amounts, the story ending abruptly with the worker being hustled by police past scandal-hungry-reporters as the dead woman’s husband suddenly attacks him with a hammer.  (6) “Until Death Do Us Part” (“Hasta que muerte nos separe”)—At a lavish wedding reception the new bride, Romina (Érica Rivas)—photo with the second paragraph below—discovers that her husband, Ariel (Diego Gentile), had an affair with an attractive co-worker whom he invited to the party; Romina’s devastated, leaves the event to go to the roof of the building, contemplating suicide, but she’s talked down by a cook from this hotel; when Ariel finds her she’s having sex with the cook, angrily tells her husband that his life is going to be a constant misery, then returns to the reception where she dances with the co-worker/former-mistress until they crash into a wall mirror, shattering it before Romina starts berating Ariel in front of everyone.  However, he finally comes over to her, they reconcile while dancing, then fall onto the cake table to make love right there as the guests hurriedly leave them to their business.

So What? Wild Tales was Argentina’s entry for the 2014 Foreign Language Film Oscar competition, making the final 5 before losing to Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski; review in our June 3, 2014 posting), a very strong category in which I’ve now only missed seeing Tangerines (Zaza Urushadze) from Estonia (If you’d like to look over my reviews of the other pair of excellent nominees, Leviathan [Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia] and Timbuktu [Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania], both posted on February 26, 2015, please help yourself), so while I can’t argue with the final award winner, Wild Tales is a great competitor, offering a disturbingly-delightful-collection of humans-at-our-worst-tales, none of which provide examples of decent living but all of which help us find outrageous humor in even the most grim situations.  Some other reviews of this film indicate that certain of its components are better than others, but I found them all to be constantly surprising, intense in their brief-but-impactful-presentations, and delightfully singular so that we’re not supposed to be astonished (leave that to the doc below about Orson Welles) as to how their events/characters/resolutions somehow interact in a grand, cosmic manner.  Possibly “Pasternak” would be the one most likely to catch you off-guard with its surprising concept, “The Proposal” is the most unnerving of the bunch in its depiction of easy corruption in contemporary Argentina (not at all unlike what you’d witness in Russia’s Leviathan), and “Until Death Do Us Part” (a result which seemed it might come before the newlyweds even made it to their honeymoon) is the most intense, due to Romina’s marvelously-staged-breakdown-and-eventual-recovery, but each episode has its own “charm,” even as things end very badly for some or all of the involved major characters.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Once they get their brief moment in the spotlight at the various U.S. awards ceremonies, foreign-language-films often disappear from viewing opportunities in our smaller cities and more-rural-areas (as for those of you reading this outside of the U.S. and Canada I don’t know if your situations are similar, but I feel they might be especially for readers of this blog, where I’ve hardly made any impact in predominantly-Spanish-speaking-countries, so readers of Two Guys’ patter outside of northern North America may have an even harder time getting to see films from Latin America); therefore, Wild Tales might only pop up in your region because of its connections to famous Spaniard director Pedro Almodóvar, one of its many producers, but if you do get a chance to see it on a large screen or through some sort of video or download option I highly encourage you to do so, as long as what I’ve revealed about it doesn’t leave you with such a repulsive taste that you have no interest in these various tales of human depravity.  If you’re intrigued by what it offers, though, you might agree with me that a proper Musical Metaphor to put you in mind for its special “delights” is The Doors’ “People Are Strange” (from the 1967 album Strange Days) at 171w, where my wonderful wife, Nina, will likely be pleased because this very-old-school-music-video is mostly just midshots and closeups of Jim Morrison singing (warning: you may have to pump up the audio a bit), a distant removal from how this musical/visual art form has evolved into the realm of the more unique, unexpected approaches that also characterize the off-kilter-actions that we witness in the strange, wild world explored by writer-director Szifrón in Wild Tales.
(Aspiring Toward) Short(er) Takes:

                                  Cinderella (Kenneth Branagh)

“Tale as old as time …,” oops!  That’s another animated fairy tale about to be redone by Disney as live-action; this current in-house Disney remake is the classic tale of a decent young woman treated horribly by her step-family until she catches the eye of ready-for-a-bride Prince Kit, slides her foot easily back into that glass shoe, then lives happily ever after.
What Happens: Well, just what you’d expect if you know the original Disney animated version of this story (Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilfred Jackson; 1950) or the fairy tale that it’s based on (retold in various forms by Charles Perrault [1697], the Brother Grimm [1812]—their version is more like the one used in Into the Woods, also recently brought to screen by Disney [Rob Marshall; review in our January 9, 2015 posting]and others):  a sweet and wonderful young woman, Ella (Lily James, looking like a young Jessica Lange to me but more-in-the-know-viewers will recognize her from PBS’ Downton Abbey [thanks to Nina for clueing me in), is treated terribly by her connivingly-wicked-stepmother (Cate Blanchett) and addled-brained-stepsisters, Anastasia (Holliday Grainger) and Drisella (Sophie McShera); her only friends are her animal companions as she’s reduced to servant status by her family, sleeping by the cinder-filled-fireplace which generates a new nickname for her; a majestic ball is thrown by the kingdom’s Prince Kit (Richard Madden)—I don’t think he’s ever referred to as Prince Charming here—in order for him to find a wife; Cinderella’s fairy godmother (Helena Bonham Carter) suddenly appears, brandishes her magic wand to turn the ragamuffin girl into a shimmering beauty in glass shoes (I never did understand why such high-heeled-foot-ware is referred to as “slippers,” except in the sense that they slip so easily [magically] only onto one pair of feet) but with the requirement that she return home by midnight; Cindy (I hope she doesn’t mind me calling her that, now that she’s a queen and all) and the Prince quickly fall in love but she has to leave before he can do any proposing; after a lengthy search throughout the kingdom the proper fit of shoe and foot leads to a royal marriage, with shame (and departure from the land) to the step-family for their former treatment of their now-regal-relative.

 We do get some enhancement in this new live-action-version, in that a short-but-effective bit of time is spent showing how young child Ella’s life is so idyllic with her parents but then increases exponentially in sorrow as first Mother (Hayley Atwell), then Father (Ben Chaplin), die off, leaving the now-adolescent-Ella with her materialistically-minded stepmother and what offers to be a life of misery, given that Ella’s determined to stay in the traditional family homestead in memory of her beloved parents even though she’s now being treated so terribly.  We also get a little hint toward the end of this movie as to why the stepmother’s so greedy and cruel (including her plot with the Grand Duke [Stellan Skarsgård] to keep Ella away from the Prince so that a commoner won’t taint their kingdom, allowing the young royal to marry an appropriate princess from another country), but unlike in Disney’s retelling of Sleeping Beauty (Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, 1959) into Maleficent (Robert Stromberg, 2014; review in our June 6, 2014 posting)—where the once-misunderstood-evil-fairy (Angelina Jolie) is given a well-elaborated backstory to explain her temporary turn to wickedness before finding a new future with Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning)—we really don’t get much understanding of what soured Lady Tremaine on life so much, nor do we discover any particular reason for sympathy toward her or her obnoxious daughters (although having 2 husbands die on this grim matriarch might well have something to do with her haughty pickle-puss-mood as she clandestinely seeks a comfortable life for herself and her offspring).  So, all in all, this is pretty much Cinderella as we’ve always known the story, although now with marvelously-designed costumes and CGI effects that are more visually-dazzling than the hand-drawn-version of this fairytale from so very long ago (especially in the minds of the younger viewers of this new presentation, where 1950 probably sounds like the Middle Ages).

So What? Star Trek encourages us to “Live long and prosper” (locally, in my San Francisco area, Kaiser Permanente HMO is essentially using the same tag line in their ads); this new Cinderella provides a message of “Have courage and be kind,” the parting request from Cinderella’s dying mother.  This mantra fortifies her daughter for the misery that lies ahead, with the sense that such noble suffering is rewarded with love, wealth, and power (when used judiciously of course, as the final voiceover from the Fairy Godmother tells us how wisely-wonderful Ella and Kit were as monarchs for their tiny kingdom), although coincidence and magic became necessary elements in her salvation as well.  You’ll just have to decide for yourself (and with your children, if applicable—I just have cats, who focus on sleeping) whether this all amounts to a positive encouragement for people to bear well their burdens in order to maintain their own integrity even in the face of oppression or whether the underlying message is that “heavenly” rewards (even on Earth) await those who properly endure their suffering (an interpretation that could easily be considered advocacy for Christian theology, which has been embraced by some and rejected/parodied by others, including in this video where Cinderella [Sarah Michelle Gellar] rap-battles Belle [Whitney Avalon] from Beauty and the Beast [Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise; 1991] about their clash of pro-and-con-feminist messages).

Bottom Line Final Comments: While I had a basically “Ho-hum, here we go again with the rescued-by-a-prince-story” response to this movie (although the visuals are very striking, the acting is effectively appropriate to the characters, and the computer-generated-companion-mice are quite cute) it continues Disney’s financially-successful-trend of retelling its animated classics with live actors (Alice in Wonderland [Tim Burton, 2010], Maleficent, with versions of Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo [Ben Sharpsteen, 1941], and The Jungle Book [Reitherman, 1967] in the works), as Cinderella took in $132 million worldwide ($25 million in China) in its debut weekend, $70.1 million of that from our domestic (U.S., Canada) market*, with 68% of that latter crowd being female, or, cut in different ways, 66% families, 31% of the attendees as 11 or younger (although the seemingly-retro-content has sparked complaints that the new Cindy is just like the old one: decent and humble but dependent on a fairy godmother and a husband to make her life complete rather than the more forward-leaning-females we’ve seen recently from Disney in Maleficent and Frozen [Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013; review in our January 24, 2014 posting.  If you’d rather have another dose of Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, though, that’s also available if you get to your Cinderella screening on time because they’re back in a pre-feature animated short (Can I still call that a cartoon?), Frozen Fever (Buck, Lee), about mishaps around a surprise birthday party for Anna]).  As a Musical Metaphor for this new Cinderella I initially thought of using the “Bibbity Bobbity Boo” enchantment song from the original Disney version, given how closely in most areas the new one reflects upon the older (so much so that this song is part of the new movie’s closing-credits-soundtrack); however, given that the narrative of this contemporary Cinderella is so old-school (many would say “conventional”—or worse), I thought I’d be a bit more unexpected (but still old-school) with my chosen tune, so I’ll offer you “Little Deuce Coupe” by The Beach Boys at com/watch?v=AsaTtfRKJdg, because while Brian, Mike, and company’s ride has a flat head mill, a competition clutch, with 4 on the floor vs. Cinderella’s tricked-out-pumpkin, transformed mice, lizards, and goose they both have the “fastest set of wheels in town,” they both know that what they love “purrs like a kitten,” and, regarding Cinderella’s eventual union with new King Kit, they’ve all “got the pink slip, daddy,” so sing along if you like, even if it’s way past midnight.

*On a related box-office note, American Sniper (Clint Eastwood; review in our January 29, 2015 posting) has now become the top domestic money-earner of 2014 releases, finally beating out The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1 (Francis Lawrence; review in our November 26, 2014 posting), even though we're now well in 2015, but the box-office-tabulators are now doing their tallies this way rather than limiting the calculations to the strict calendar year to track income.
              Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work
              of Orson Welles (Chuck Workman)
Obviously, this is a biography of great cinematic auteur Welles, tracing his accomplishments from childhood prodigy to NYC sensation on stage and radio (performing and directing) to the enormous impact and fallout from Citizen Kane, which guaranteed him legendary status even as its cultural-magnitude-residue haunted Welles’ cinematic career, with its many difficulties, to its inevitable end.
What Happens: My usual analytical structure for these reviews doesn’t really seem very necessary for a bio-documentary that spans a man’s life (in an effectively-concise 91 min.) with a direct-chronological-outline, but if you need a compressed version of it:  Orson Welles was born in Wisconsin in 1915; left motherless, with an alcoholic father by age 9; gifted with an amazing mind (but no empathetic skills toward others) and influences from Expressionism that found early success with conception, execution, and acting for the stage in Ireland and Illinois; made quick impact in young adulthood with the Federal Theatre Project, as well as its Negro Theatre Unit, then the Mercury Theatre Players which he brought to weekly national radio, including the famous “War of the Worlds” CBS radio broadcast, leading to an audacious-artistic-freedom-movie-studio-contract that culminated with Citizen Kane at age 26; celebrated for a lifetime of work in the theatre (which helped pay some of the bills for many well-conceived-but-unfinished film projects), a few additional Hollywood films (not edited as he intended), several independent films that show great creativity with limited budgets but little financial gain, and a later-life-mass-media-presence that alternated between high-honor and self-parody.  As with the basic narrative facts of Citizen Kane (which are largely summarized in the almost-opening-newsreel-obituary—itself a parody of classic-Hollywood-era-informational-summaries), these recapped highlights of Welles’ life are the foundational bones onto which this documentary experience is built but what really matters are the nuances that enrich the substructure, revealed in … Kane through the variously-conflicting-testimonies to the unifying reporter character, revealed in Magician … through an enormous amount of old clips pulled together in fabulous fashion by master-editor Workman to help a contemporary audience who may not really know much about Welles’s extensive, varied, multifaceted career understand what enormous creative potential “welled” up within him, yet how tragically those visions were compromised or never even realized until his death in 1985 because of his difficulties with getting financing for ideas that didn’t scream “box-office payday” as well as his famous artistic temperament which constantly kept him on the outer fringes of the studio system, with the money-men at the top always leery that he’d burden them with another bad-publicity-scandal like the infamous one with William Randolph Hearst that so severely limited … Kane’s presence back in 1941, nearly resulting in the destruction of that negative before there’d even be a chance for it to make the long-lasting-impact that it has, even to the present day.  Welles' life truly was astonishing.

So What? As with the biography of Liv Ullman’s acting career and her personal intersections with famed director Ingmar Bergman, Liv & Ingmar (Dheeraj Akolkar, 2012; review in our January 9, 2014 posting), I can’t be entirely objective where Welles is concerned because I hold him in such high regard as an artist (as I do Bergman and Ullman), so it would take a lousy retelling of his life for me not to be enthralled by seeing again what I so respect him for.  In my opinion, Citizen Kane is still the best film ever made, despite the international critics and directors polled every 10 years by the British film journal, Sight and Sound, who finally ended … Kane’s superiority from 1962-2011 by dropping Welles’ masterpiece to #2 of these highly-respected-rankings in 2012 in favor of Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock,1958),* while the 1998 re-edited version of Touch of Evil (Welles, 1958) by Walter Murch, following the extensive notes sent to Universal Studios by Welles, also stands as one of the great on-screen-accomplishments, while the rest of Welles’ career is sadly made up mostly of visions toward rather than visions of what he intended (The Magnificent Ambersons, 1942; The Trial, 1962) or brilliant obscurities (Macbeth, 1948; Othello, 1952; Chimes at Midnight, 1965).  True, just as Welles would still be honored if he did nothing else but Citizen Kane, Michelangelo would likewise be renowned if he’d only done the Sistine Chapel frescoes (my candidate for Best. Painting. Ever. based on scope, quality, visual power, and [restored] color vibrancy), but, as with Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso, Pollack, and others like them, Michelangelo was able to offer an enthralling body of work for future generations to admire and learn from, whereas, to me, Welles is more like Leonardo da Vinci, who also had an abundance of talents but few surviving paintings, published works, functioning inventions or discoveries in his lifetime in many areas of engineering and science that had direct influence on immediately-succeeding-generations to show for all of that brilliance (although I know I’ll get arguments on these claims from da Vinci enthusiasts); I’ll just have to hope that Welles is judged in future centuries as da Vinci is now, a Renaissance-man-conceptual-genius with some archived masterworks (and a lot of praise for Welles’ stage acting but little evidence of such beyond his film appearances) to prove that his talents were both practical and theoretical even though much of his reputation rests on concepts more so than a wealth of tangible results.

*You can check this site to see that Citizen Kane has appeared as part of the Top Ten in 6 of the 7 Sight and Sound polls since 1952 (but with the best overall rankings of any film, #1 in 5 of those S&S tallies, #2 in the most recent one), tied with another masterpiece, The Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925) at 6 poll rankings, with only Rules of the Game (La Regle du Jeu) (Jean Renoir, 1939) appearing within the Top Ten of all 7 of their polls.  Given this sort of impact that Welles had as a film director (despite his relatively-small-output of relatively-finished-works), it’s nice to see other directors—Peter Bogdanovich, Julie Taymor, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, William Friedkin, Richard Linklater—offer insights on him during the course of this smoothly-paced, highly-informative documentary, well-illustrated with voiceover-narration, archival photos, and clips of films made by Welles, those featuring him as an actor, or others as fictionalized versions of his life and times.  For me, the best example is from Touch of Evil, where Marlene Dietrich’s prostitute character, Tanya, offers a 2-line "eulogy" for Welles’ character, the corrupt cop Hank Quenlan.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Accordingly, I’ll leave my comments on Magician … with an offbeat “Musical Metaphor” in that it’s aural but focused on speech, sound effects, and vocal performance distortions to achieve its still-effective-impact, a recording of The Mercury Theatre on the Air’s radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds at com/watch?v=OzC3 Fg_rRJM, presented as a newscast interrupting a musical program on October 30, 1938 as a pre-Halloween scarefest about deadly Martians invading Earth, landing at Grover’s Mill, NJ.  You have to devote a hefty 55:51 to hear the whole experience, but it’s worth it to appreciate the flawless concept and execution so characteristic of the multimedia artist celebrated so successfully in Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepageIf you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

Here’s some more information about Wild Tales: (44:09 press conference for Wild Tales from the 2014 Cannes Film Festival with producers Hugo Sigman and Agustín Almodóvar; director Damián Szifrón; actors María Marull, Oscar Martínez, Ricardo Darín, Érica Rivas, and Leonardo Sbaraglia)

Here’s some more information about Cinderella: (9:51 compressed version of the Disney animated Cinderella, a good argument that the full version of the older movie is truly a musical in that all of these scenes are dominated by songs which carry the narrative in place of more conventional dialogue, as a true musical should do at least in several of its scenes—or just about all of them, as is the case in this compression)

Here’s some more information about Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles: (3:38:50 interview with Orson Welles [more than twice the length of the Magician … documentary] by Peter Bogdanovich, recorded at various times from 1969 to 1972, audio only though; you’d have to have a lot of free time to be able to listen to all of this but you might want to skip around in it to hear two great contributors to the cinema sharing priceless commentary [unfortunately, a little bit of the recording quality isn’t too great])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.