Tuesday, October 28, 2014

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” Flies High For Accomplishment and Awards

By José Alberto Hermosillo 
Birdman, poster. Copyright ©2014 Fox
This year, the Oscar has “Wings,” “The Great Ziegfeld” is back, “Birdman” is “The Artist” of the season, and the “Midnight Cowboy” of the decade. 

The existentialist, hypnotic, dark comedy, masterfully directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu (“Amores Perros,” “Babel”) sets apart from the directors’ recurrent topics: communication, violence, emptiness, immigration, human exploitation, but death. Death is obsessively present in every work done by Iñárritu.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Photo by José A. Hermosillo. Copyright ©2014 Festival in LA
Divided into three acts, like in the theater, “Birdman” tells the story of a lonely falling star that years ago, after playing an iconic superhero, made the wrong decisions in Hollywood. Now, the only way to visualize his comeback is by producing, directing, and performing his play on Broadway: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” 

The fading fame of the actor, his divorce, age, daughter’s rehab, economic situation, and the lies of other actors made him struggle for survival.

Broadway is a jungle where everyone devours each other - actors, agents, lawyers, family, the public, and critics (remember the critics). 
Copyright © 2014 Fox

From the beginning, his “larger than life” Alter Ego is playing “Funny Games,” making him behave differently, out-of-the-ordinary, so crazy that people laugh. “You are Birdman; you are a God.”
To have his glorious return to the stage, the starving actor Reagan Thomson played by Michael Keaton (“Batman,” “Speechless”), must be “nice” to everyone, including himself. The situations in life will come up pretty rough on him. 

“Birdman” is a pendulum that swings from the long discussions to the long silences - the player is always trying to find what really matters in life. 
Copyright ©2014 Fox
“No need for drugs when you are already emotionally high.” 

The strident drum score of Antonio Sanchez is jazzy, rhythmic, and sometimes a “wild mambo.” Towards the end, the drums become dissonant and chaotic, enhancing the story to total madness with an unexpected resolution.

This movie seems to be shot in three days, but its chronicle of the shooting is much more complicated than that. It requires planning, building, lighting, choreography, and many rehearsals to obtain the perfect timing, making everything happen at the precise moment. 

Directors, actors, cameramen, editors, and the sound department must hit their marks to make the story flawless. Their moves have to flow perfectly, like the choreography of “The Swan Lake.” 

Let’s not forget the special effects, which come out of nowhere and are unique. 
Photo by Jose A. Hermosillo. Copyright ©2014 Festival in LA
Technically and symbolically, “Birdman” is structured in three parts (first rehearsal, dress rehearsal, and preview). Those parts are interconnected by the complicated long takes that follow the characters through the long hallways inside the theater and sometimes out to the streets.

Director of photography Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki (“Gravity,” “A New World,” “Tree of Life”) knows his craft and can challenge himself by using the same continuous “long takes” as the one he used inside the building of Cuarón’s “Children of Men,” only that in “Birdman” it repeats many times. The Academy Award® winner, cinematographer, is one of the best of his generation - Chivo is likely to win the Award for the second year in a row.
Copyright © 2014 Fox
The shot of the interior of the Korean grocery store is magnificent. Those thousands of chili pepper-shaped lights are not only colorful or fantastic but breathtaking, in one word: marvelous!
Copyright © 2014 Fox
Michael Keaton is phenomenal; his work with Iñárritu pushed the limits for the best performance in his career. 

Javier Bardem working with Iñárrit,u got an Oscar nomination in 2010 for “Biutiful,” and now Keaton will most likely get an Oscar nomination for his magnificent performance in “Birdman.” He is the front-runner to win gold.
Copyright ©2014 Festival in LA
Edward Norton, always controversial, his powerful presence ignites the big screen with fire. 

Zach Galifianakis’ performance is the best of his career. Emma Stone is superb and represents a new generation of Hollywood's great young actors. Everyone is just fantastic. 

“Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” deserves multiple nominations and awards, a simple story in a complex movie that aspires to perfection.
Copyright © 2014 Birdman Facebook Page.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

“The Dark Valley” An Extraordinary Western from Austria and Germany with Flavor of Revenge

By Jose Alberto Hermosillo.  


“The Dark Valley” is intensely violent, beautiful, and contrasting. This new modern European western has Sergio Leone’s style with influences of Clint Eastwood and Sam Peckinpah.

“The Dark Valley” is the story of a man who comes to town to restore his identity and the dignity of those who live in fear.

The excellent performance by the British actor Sam Riley (“Control,” Maleficent,” “On the Road”) and supporting cast, such as German actor Clemens Schick (“Futuro Beach”), make this Austrian-German co-production believable and exciting.

Actor Clemens Schick ("The Dark Valley," "Futuro Beach"). Photo by Jose A. Hermosillo.

The size of the supporting cast - many of them from different backgrounds - makes it difficult to interact with each other. But as director Andreas Prochaska said: “At that time, people didn’t talk much; they worked. Their expressive faces are landscapes where we can read emotions, ideas, thoughts...” 

For him, his biggest challenge was to work with horses. "It was challenging," he said. Also, he added that it took more than a year to convince the writer of the novel's rights.

Director Andreas Prochaska and actor Clemens Schick. Photo by Jose A. Hermosillo.

Visually, “The Dark Valley” doesn’t look like a traditional Western: gold, red, yellowish, and sepia - its cinematography is more obscure, dark blue. The darkness of the sky, in combination with the light reflected on the white snow, makes everything look more bluish, not sharp black as the Oscar© nominee for best cinematography “Sleepy Hallow” or the French super-production “Brotherhood of the Wolf,” but works well in creating a mysterious and haunting atmosphere.  

This film is a big contrast with the director’s previous movie, which has sharp and bright colors. The image dramatically contrasts with the story, which is about one of the most obscure events in world history, regarding what happened in a place where the Great War started, “Sarajevo.” 

In the beginning, the rigid camera gives the right atmosphere to appreciate the gorgeous landscape of the majestic Alps. Ultimately, the steady camera makes us lose the adrenaline accumulated during violent moments. Some of the interiors were amazing. The bar scene was shot inside a Bavarian Museum.  The cinematography was done by a very talented D. P., Thomas W. Kienast.

The innovative transitions make us hold our breath with so much beauty. Those are done with a still photographic style inviting us to look for what is coming next. Daniel Prochaska was the editor.

Clemens Schick, Thomas W. Kiennast, Matthias Weber, Andreas Prochaska. Photo by Jose A. Hermosillo.

Accordingly, with the music composer Matthias Weber, the score has to serve the director’s vision. In that sense, the music is constructed more psychologically, much more modern, mainly with the strident opening song “Sinnerman,” which makes an enormous contrast with the period where the story takes place, almost like in "Django Unchained" or "Desperado."

Many compare this new western with “The Great Silence” because of its team of revenge and cold murders - Others said that the adaptation of the novel fell flat on the screen in terms of narrating the story.

But in the end, no matter how the revenge is served when all the damage is done. We must remember that “freedom is a gift not everybody likes to receive” because a bastard is always a bastard.

“The Dark Valley” is the official Austrian submission for the Oscars© and premiered at the German Currents in Los Angeles - Organized by the Goethe Institute of Los Angeles and the American Cinematheque, who were able to bring from Austria and Germany, the director,  the music composer, the cinematographer, and actor exclusively for this presentation.

German Currents Los Angeles 2014. Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo.

Other great films showcased at the German Currents Los Angeles were:

Actress Hannah Herzsprung, "Beloved Sisters." Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo.

“Beloved Sisters.” Germany’s Oscar© Submission.
“I Feel Like Disco.”

Monday, October 13, 2014

16 Latino Submissions for the Academy Awards® 2015

By Jose Alberto Hermosillo
®A. M. P. A. S. Photo by Jose Alberto Hermosillo.
A record-breaking of 83 countries submitted a film  in the category of Best Foreign Language Film to the 87th Academy Awards® of which 16 films are from Latin countries. Out of the 83 submissions, 14 were directed by women, and three are Latinas (Colombia, Costa Rica, and Dominican Republic). Four countries submitted a film for the first time, Panama is among them. And two directors are from the same nationality (Mexico) representing different countrIes.

Two of the Latino submissions are documentaries: Portugal and Panama. In the past two years, two documentaries have been nominated for best foreign film: 2013 Germany’s “Pina” and 2014 Cambodia's animated submission “The Missing Picture.” The Academy® may consider a new category: Best Foreign Documentary Feature.

(L.) Dana Rotberg (R.) Amat Escalante ©Festival in LA.
For the second year in a row, two Mexican directors are representing two different countries, last year New Zealand submitted a film made by the Mexican born director Dana Rotberg’s “White Lies” and Mexico submitted the best director winner in Cannes Amat Escalante’s "Heli."

Two Mexican directors compete for two different countries:
Bolivia and Mexico.
(L.) Carlos Bolado (R.) Sebastian Del Olmo ©Festival in LA.

This year, Bolivia has submitted, for the third time a movie co-produced by Mexico: “Olvidados” by Carlos Bolado (“Colosio: El asesinato,” “Tlatelolco, Verano 68”), and “Cantinflas” by Sebastian Del Olmo (“The Fantastic World of Juan Orol”), both directors are from Mexico.

El Salvador, Belize, Honduras and Paraguay never submitted a film.

Nicaragua and Puerto Rico each got a nomination, but didn’t submit this year: Miguel Littin's “Alcino y el Cóndor” and Jacobo Morales' “Lo que le pasó a Santiago/What Ever Happened to Santiago?” Those films were nominated in 1983 and 1989, respectively. Chilean director Miguel Littin has been nominated twice: the one we mention previously representing Nicaragua and his first nomination was for Mexico: "Letters from Marucia/Actas de Marucia."
Miguel Littin @ LALIFF ©Festival in LA
Some of the Latino submissions are in theaters or at the film festivals, some are available on DVD and V.O.D.

The 16 Latino Submissions are:

1. Argentina 
       “Wild Tales/Relatos Salvajes"
      Directed by Damián Szifrón and produced by Pedro Almodóvar. The 10 minute standing ovation in Cannes showed how much people liked this well crafted film, with a perfect character development and wonderful cast ensemble. The South American submission is a front runner for winning gold this year. The film has been watched for more than 2.5 million people in Argentina. 

     Argentina is the only Latin-American country in winning two times in this category: “The Official Story/La historia oficial” in 1985 and “The Secret in Their Eyes/El secreto de sus ojos” in 2009. This year “Wild Stories/Relatos Salvajes” is a very strong candidate to get a nomination. The fantastic soundtrack composed by two times Oscar® winner Gustavo Santaolalla (“Babel,” “Brokeback Mountain”) could be a contender for original score as well, if the movie gets released in US theaters before the end of the year.

2. Bolivia
      Directed by Carlos Bolado. A powerful “Che” style story that shows the consequences of the Cold War in South America in the 70’s depicting what is known as “Operation Condor” (people, students and thinkers who disappeared under the military dictatorship).

3. Brazil 
       “The Way He Looks/
Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho” 
      Directed by Daniel Ribeiro. A sweet coming-of-age movie about a blind teenager named Leonardo and his best friend Giovana and his over protecting mother. At the school, everything changes upon the arrival of Gabriel, who makes Leonardo “see” the world differently. 

The naturalistic sets and good dialogues make this first time filmmaker a strong candidate. People at OUTFEST 2014 loved this movie. Brazil has been nominated four times, and once made it to the shortlist. “City of God” didn't get a nomination in this category, but the violent film of Fernando Meirelles (“Blindness,” “The Constant Gardener”) got four nominations: Best director, adapted screenplay, cinematography, and editing.

4. Chile 
       “To Kill a Man/
Matar a un hombre
      Directed by Alejandro Fernández Almendras. The story of a hard working man and his family who have been terrorized by a neighbor. After serving two years in prison, the bully returns for vengeance. The father has to come out with a better survival plan.  

 This intense Chilean thriller was released in the US on DVD by Film Movement a few months ago and is a good example of the excellency of Chilean productions.

5. Colombia    
Directed by María Gamboa. A teen runs away from the mafia and drug lords finding refuge in the theater where he feels safe. This is the first feature for María Gamboa, who graduated from NYU. She got the idea of the movie after working on a T.V. Series 'Revelados' where she saw how theater helped children to stay away from the war that Colombia suffered for many years. This is a Colombian-French co-production. 
6. Costa Rica  
“Red Princesses/
Princesas Rojas”   
Directed by Laura Astorga. A beautiful story of a girl growing up during the Sandinista-era. Similar concept to the 2006 Brazilian submission “The Year My Parents Went on Vacation.”

7. Cuba
      Directed by Ernesto Daranas. The story of a teacher who want to change the system and a boy that needs to change his behavior to become a better man, regardless of the negative influences of his father, classmates, society and poverty. Sydney and Toronto Film Festival gave to the Cuban movie great reviews. Cuba has been nominated only once for “Strawberry and Chocolate/Fresa y chocolate.”

8. Dominican Republic 
       “Cristo Rey” 
      Directed by Leticia Tonos. An explosive film about a deprived town in Santiago, where Dominicans and Haitians struggle to live together, their enormous differences tear them apart. Two half brothers will fight for the same girl, one of them will join the Cristo Rey gang. 

9. Ecuador 
      “Silence in Dreamland/
El silencio en la tierra de los sueños” 
      Directed by Tito Molina. This beautifully shot film is muddy and artistic. It is co-produced between Ecuador and Germany.

10. México
      Directed by Sebastian Del Olmo. The biopic of the famous Mexican comedian “Cantinflas” has been a box office success in Mexico and in the US. The films from Mexico and Poland,  “Ida,” both got released in movie theaters before they were the official submission, becoming more well known in America and that makes them strong contenders. “Cantinflas” could also get a nomination in other categories: best make-up, best costume design, and best original song, and is still showing in some theaters. Mexico has submitted films for 40 years, eight nominations, and in 2008 "Arrancame la vida/Tear this Heart Out" made it to the shortlist.

11. Panama
      Directed by Abner Benaim. The documentary talks about the memories that people have during the US invasion of their country, the bombs falling from the sky. The number of deaths will be never known. The winner of best film and best documentary at the Panama Film Festival has a very different point of view on the same event depicted in the 1992 best documentary Oscar© winner "The Panama Deception." It’s similar to the war memories of El Salvador in the documentary “The Tiniest Place/Ellugar más pequeño.”

12. Peru
      “The Gosepel of the Flesh/
El evenagelio de la carne” 
      Directed by Eduardo Mendoza De Echave. A fierce and complex urban drama about hope, faith, and human life. Three different stories with complicated scenarios. The city by itself is playing a major character. The locals are saying that this film is the best Peruvian movie ever made. Peru has submitted films many times and it got nominated in 2009 for “The Milk of Sorrow/La teta asustada” directed by Claudia Llosa.  

13. Portugal
       “What Now? Remind Me/
E Agora? Lembra Me” 
      Directed by Joaquim Pinto. This gorgeous documentary follows the life of Joaquim Pinto. A film director that returns with this personal and existentialist document, he has been considered as one of the most influential filmmakers in Portugal. Now, he is brave enough to show to the world his existence living with HIV for more than 20 years, what he calls “a notebook of records of clinical trials.” This Portuguese entry is getting ovations at the festivals of New York, Locarno and Vienna. Portugal has been submitting films since 1980 and never got a nomination.

14. Spain
       “Living is Easy with Eyes Closed/
Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados” 
       Directed by David Trueba. Based on a real life story, this nostalgic and heartfelt drama is about a teacher on the road to meet the legendary singer John Lennon. The film has won many awards in Spain, including The Goya for best picture. The film has been shown in one theater in Miami creating a big buzz among spectators. It's selected to open the Recent Spanish Cinema Los Angeles on October 16th. The director David Trueba will be present at this West Coast premiere. The Egyptian Theater has confirmed that this event is completely SOLD OUT a week in advance. Spain has been nominated 19 times, winning four Oscars®.

15. Uruguay 
      “Mr. Kaplan” 
      Directed by Alvaro Brechner. A quixotic adventure about a retiree tired living a monotonous life when a lonely German awakes his suspicions of being Nazi. Kaplan hires a retired cop to kidnap the suspect. After winning the best actor award at the Biarritz and raving reviews at the BFI London Film Festival "Mr. Kaplan" can give a big surprise. Brechner amazed the festival circuit with his previous work of magical realism “Bad Day to Go Fishing/Mal dia para pescar.” The plot of “Mr. Kaplan” may intrigue the Academy members to nominate Uruguay for the “second time,” the first time Uruguay got nominated was in 1992 for “A Place in the World/Un lugar en el mundo,” but it got disqualified because there was a claim saying that the production was more Argentinean rather than Uruguayan. 

16.  Venezuela 
      “The Liberator/Libertador” 
      Directed by Alberto Aruelo.  An epic time period drama about the revolution of independence Simon Bolivar embarked for South America. The soundtrack is composed by the talented and famous Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel. 

“The Liberator” is having a good exposure by playing in the U.S.A. theaters, a big advantage for a Latin-American country - busting the possibilities of getting a nomination.

      The options for the Latin countries to reach out and grab an Oscar® nomination are here, the quality and visions of their work speak for themselves. 
Related articles:

Mexico Named "Cantinflas" the Official Entry for Best Foreign Film at the 87th Academy Awards

25 Great Foreign Films Getting Distribution in the US in 2014

25 Great Foreign Films that Did Not Get Distribution in US Theaters



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