A Film Review Blog

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Friday, October 27, 2006

La Niña de tus ojos (1998)

La Niña de tus Ojos is an interesting but strange film about a troupe of Spanish cinema actors who go to Nazi Germany to make a musical. Interestingly, there were in fact a handful of Spanish films made in Nazi Germany during the Spanish Civil War. Franco’s National Department of Cinematography forced a lot of actors to go into exile. You know you live in a fascist regime when you have to travel to Nazi Germany to get a break from the censors. This particular group of exiled actors starts out blissfully ignorant and happy to be working. They know that the Nazis hate the Jews but they want no part of the war, stating that they are artists, not politicians or militants. Conscience drives them to speak up, however, and they end up harboring a Jewish prisoner and subsequently fleeing for their lives.

The film, directed by Fernando Trueba (most famous for the 1985 film Sé infiel y no mires con quién) is a bizarre mish mash of silly humor and shameless melodrama. That said, it is not really a bad film. The sets are gorgeous and the performances are decent. Particularly marvelous is Penelope Cruz as Macarena. I have never been a fan of Ms. Cruz, but she exhibits such wonderful timing and delivery in this particular film that I can say nothing but good things about her. There were a few moments that made me long for a gun to shoot out my telivision set a la Elvis, the most notable being a love scene in which Penelope Cruz and her Jewish fugitive lover have sex next to an unconscious Joseph Goebbels. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, I don’t really understand the point of portraying Goebbels as a bumbling oaf. He was a very frightening psychotic man, and a film that attempts to portray the horrors of the Nazi regime should depict him as such. All in all, it is a good production with some amusing and suspenseful moments, but nothing special. A lot of the humor is derived from the miscommunication between the Spanish and German languages, so a lot of the dialogue (poorly translated into English subtitles) may be lost on viewers. Audiences will either love or hate the references to other films, particularly Casablanca.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blind Picks from Netflix: Series 7 (2001)

This week Netflix delivered one hell of a movie: Series 7: The Contenders. Imagine watching a version of Survivor in which contestants are given weapons and told to kill each other. The "winner" gets the most important prize of all: life. Series 7: The Contenders takes place in what looks like the present (or at least the very near future), in which the most popular television show in history, The Contenders seems to exist above the law. There are hints that the game is sanctioned and possibly even run by the U.S. Government, although this is never explicitly stated. The contestants are chosen at random on television with the use of a state-lottery-style set up (picture a smiling woman holding numbered ping pong balls). Then, without warning, the contestants are taken from their homes and handed guns. Unlike most reality shows, this one is mandatory. In this way, it is kind of like the draft, except no one is excused from service. An 18-year-old girl, a 73-year-old-man, a cancer patient, a middle-aged nurse and a 8-months-pregnant woman are all cast on the show. It features a cast of relatively unknown actors running around with handguns trying to kill each other. Sound stupid? Parts of it are. At a lean 80 minutes, however, the film consciously avoids wearing out its welcome. This gruesome satire of reality television is so pitch perfect in its presentation that you almost believe it is a real tv show. Everything from the voiceovers (done by the hilarious Will Arnett of Arrested Development) to the "previews" and "recaps" throughout the movie make Series 7: The Contenders feel eerily familiar. The main character, the very pregnant Dawn, is played by the fabulous Brooke it-rubs-the-lotion-on-its-skin-or-else-it-gets-the-hose-again Smith. Smith has been on a lot of television shows and on Broadway lately, but I really wish she would make more movies. She was great in Six Feet Under as Carolyn. The rest of the cast is almost as good, with Glenn Fitzgerald shining as Jeff the gay, cancer-stricken artist. Series 7: The Contenders is gruesome, but it also has an almost Christopher Guest feel about it. Interestingly, it's not a sci-fi movie like Rollerball. Rather, it's about the narcotic effects of television and how dissensitized we have become to the violence that is already all around us. The ending, which is utterly brilliant, really drives home the point that reality television is the ultimate fantasy.