Alice Through the Looking Glass
There is no magic, no wonder, just junk rehashed from a movie that was itself a rehash of Lewis Carroll, tricked out with physically unpersuasive…
Gerardo Valero was born in 1962 in Mexico City, where he currently resides with his wife Monica. He has a degree in Architecture and an MBA from the IPADE Business School in Mexico. His interest in movies started at a very young age as his father used to take him and his brothers to double or even triple features at their neighborhood theater. He mostly remembers seeing Tarzan movies and Disney classics, though mostly they watched a lot of forgettable war and cowboy movies. He remembers "The Poseidon Adventure" being talked about by everyone at his school, and by the time he saw "Jaws" at age thirteen, it became his favorite all-time film and somehow still remains so, even after watching it more times than he can recall.
Valero first learned of Siskel & Ebert in the mid-eighties during one of many summers he spent with friends in Columbus, Ohio. By 1988 it appeared on a cable station in Mexico and soon became a must-watch for him. Then the internet came along, and in 1999, he emailed Roger his very first suggestion for his "Little Movie Glossary," which, incredibly, he chose for one of his coming Yearbooks! Since then Valero has sent him dozens (or hundreds) of suggestions and, even though his days of batting 1.000 in that department didn't last very long, he has happily been published about 20 times in Roger's annual "Movie Yearbook." He has also contributed to Time Magazine's “10 Questions” (segments on Alex Trebek, Andy Roddick and Hillary Swank) and to "Freeze That Frame" in the long-defunct Video Review Magazine (1991).
Valero has won prizes in a number of trivia contests: an Omega watch for the James Bond contest (1995) and a VCR for the Lethal Weapon one (1996), both by Premiere Magazine (Mexico Premiere), and his first DVD player in the Godfather trivia contest by Cinemex, a Mexican movie chain (1998). His main interests are movies and DVDs, playing tennis, following the NY Yankees and, whenever possible, traveling. His favorite film is still "Jaws," but the first two Godfather movies make him question his standings every time he watches them.
Based on the current trends in Hollywood films, we tend to think of the movie industry as some sort of giant Business Corporation, with board rooms all over town constantly analyzing projection charts and planning the next sequel to another obscure comic-book hero flick (in 3-D). Then five years ago "United 93" came along and defied most of the usual reasons for a film to be produced in the first place. It surely wasn't made with the idea of losing money but you could anticipate this wasn't going to be your typical drama/action-adventure movie (or a blockbuster for that matter). It was never even going to help sell great amounts of movie candy (though I can recall attending a screening of "The Passion of the Christ" years ago, and seeing people entering the theater with the usual giant containers of popcorn and soda, so I guess some moviegoers can eat through anything). We knew beforehand that "United 93" would be tackling a difficult subject worthy of scrutinizing, after watching it we come to understand this was one of those few "necessary" films.
There's nothing quite like the movies if you want to learn what people's hopes and dreams were during the period in which they were made. Take for instance the recent "Up in the Air". In the present when air travel has turned into something to be endured, George Clooney's Ryan Bingham showed us how it can become an enticing way of life. The same subject was also portrayed extensively, under a very different light, some forty years as the "Airport" movies dealt with our fears of dying in new and horrible ways, while glamorizing our dreams of flying first-class, surrounded by a movie star in every seat. As the trailer for one of these features once put it: "on board, a collection of the rich and the beautiful!" They also marked the advent of a new genre (the Disaster Film) as well as the "Ark movie" which Ebert's Little Movie Glossary defines as "mixed bag of characters trapped in a colorful mode of transportation". How many films can claim to this kind of impact?
"No good movie is long enough and no bad movie is short enough". As much truth as this phrase carries it is also a fact that editing choices greatly influence a film's outcome. One of the best examples to illustrate this point is Guisseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso" which was released in 1990 as a 124 minute gem that won Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards and the unconditional love of everyone I've ever discussed it with. Further, it made no sense to learn that a much longer version of the film had been released in Italy a couple of years before to mediocre reviews and box-office results. How could material this good ever be ignored? The answer came years later in a single viewing of one of those DVD editions that includes the complete 173 minute version. As strange as this sounds, I believe that the butchering of Director Tornatore's original 1988 vision saved his film from utter mediocrity, and took it to an all together higher level.
It's hard to come up with many directors willing to take the leaps of faith that Quentin Tarantino does in every scene of his every movie. It's even harder to come up with any who have the talent to back-up even trying. The biggest reason Tarantino has such a huge following may be how he goes all-out with seemingly little or no concern for crashing -- which, amazingly, he never seems to do.
Even outside the U.S. it's common for movie-goers to avoid non-Hollywood films--not that subtitles are such a big deal to us, as we have no choice but to get accustomed to them since childhood. These feature's real problems are that they don't often receive much fanfare and their stars aren't always well known. We tend to stay away until we get one a "must see" recommendations and that was my case with the German film "The Lives of Others" (2006). It's a shame to think audiences will miss a story so gripping; this is one of the best films of its decade.
I've had to defend myself for loving "The War of the Roses" so much. The majority of people I've discussed it with found it too mean-spirited. I realize it deals with an ugly subject but this is a prime example of a movie being great at how it is about its core subject, no matter how touchy. This is one of my all-time favorite films.
"The Insider" is one of Michael Mann's best films and it represents a departure from the usual themes. One constant in his other movies is the imposing, menacing but sympathetic villain figure. They may all be capable of great violence but the tragic side of their stories helps the audience identify. In contrast, "The Insider" gives us something completely different: a faceless and unsympathetic enemy that bends the will of those who get in its way without the need of doing anything particularly spectacular or even executing it on-screen: a villain aware that the fear of losing something like health insurance may be enough to shut its victims up. Its power comes from the income provided by the countless smokers unable to quit its product and its most important goal is to make sure that they never do.
Clint Eastwood is one of the few filmmakers whose work I always attend on his reputation alone. This is not to say they've been classics (think of his orangutan movies) but when entering a theater I can be reasonably confident, worst case scenario, of seeing something above average.
Eastwood has had several defined periods, such as his Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and the cop pictures of the 70s and 80s (which arrived a bit late here in Mexico because "Dirty Harry" was censored). In a career that spans five decades and included dozens of features, a single splits it into Pre and Post, and that film is "Unforgiven." It's hard to think of a single feature that puts into perspective a filmmaker's career like this one does for Eastwood, and it opens the door to his current stage which has included some of his best work.
There's something fascinating about films with characters who have mastered a unique way of living their lives or professions, no matter how unusual or obscure, and the two best recent examples I can think of both star George Clooney. One of them is his Frequent-Flyer-Mileage-loving-liquidator in "Up in the Air" and the other is the title character of "Michael Clayton", the subject of this review.
Can any subject matter end up making a great movie?. That's the question that Siskel & Ebert's old review of "North" left me with many years ago. While Roger blasted the film's overall, twisted theme (if you don't like your parents, dump them and go get new ones), Gene dismissed this as the main problem by saying: "any subject can be done well".