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Wild Tales Review


Extraordinary

From Argentina, this Oscar-nominated collection of six short, sharp stories leaves us gasping for breath due to both riotous black comedy and deeply unnerving plot twists. Each segment is about people who are pushed beyond the tipping point, finding revenge in an unexpected way that feels both deeply horrifying and disturbingly satisfying. And even though it sometimes veers wildly close to being over-the-top, the film is written, directed and played with such brutal honesty that it can't help but rattle us to the core.

The prologue is titled "Pasternak", set on an airplane on which passengers are surprised to find out that they all have a connection to Gabriel Pasternak. But what does he have in store for them all? Next is "The Rats", set in a roadside diner where waitress Moza (Julieta Zylberberg) is unnerved to serve a loan shark (Cesar Bordon) who destroyed her family. The chef (Rita Cortese) thinks she should poison his food. "The Strongest" follows Diego (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a wealthy man driving his shiny car down a highway when he comes up to Mario (Walter Donado) hogging the road with his rattling clunker. Passing him with a volley of obscenities, Diego is then horrified when he has a flat tyre and knows who's coming down the road behind him.

The fourth clip is "Little Bomb", about demolition expert Simon (Ricardo Darin), who engages the city's bureaucrats in a quickly escalating war when his car is erroneously towed for parking illegally. "The Proposal" is the most cerebral segment, centring on a wealthy man (Oscar Martinez) trying to clear his teen son (Alan Daicz), who has just run down a pregnant woman in the street. The idea is to find a scapegoat. And in "Until Death Parts Us", a bride (Erica Rivas) discovers in the middle of their marriage reception that her new husband (Diego Gentile) has been cheating on her. Her reaction is neither calm nor measured.

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I'm So Excited! [Los Amantes Pasajeros] Review


Good

Fans of more recent Almodovar films like The Skin I Live In or Volver should be warned about this one, because it harks back to his much cheesier 1980s films with its broad comedy, lurid production values and camp characters. But even if it looks fluffy and silly, there are some serious things going on under the surface, as Almodovar undermines stereotypes and plays with sexuality issues. Although this means that most of the humour is aimed at a gay audience.

It all takes place on a flight from Spain to Mexico, but shortly after take-off the pilot (de la Torre) announces that a mechanical fault means they need to make an emergency landing. Then the passenger Bruna (Duenas) reveals that she's a virginal psychic who sees death ahead, and everyone starts to panic. The flight crew (Camara, Areces and Arevalo) try to distract the passengers from impending doom by performing a choreographed number to the Pointer Sisters' eponymous hit. And when that doesn't work, they lace everyone's drinks with mescaline.

Each person in the first class cabin (economy is sound asleep) has his or her own crisis, including a notorious dominatrix (Roth), a businessman (Torrijo) on a quest, a shady hitman (Yazpik), a just-married groom (Silvestre) who prefers his wife to be asleep, and a man (Toledo) running from his suicidal girlfriend (Vega). And the pilots and flight attendants are also romantically entangled. All of this swirls together like a nutty 1970s Mexican soap, complete with flimsy-looking sets and a sparky mariachi score.

Continue reading: I'm So Excited! [Los Amantes Pasajeros] Review

The Headless Woman [La Mujer Sin Cabeza] Review


Excellent
There's so much going on in between the lines of this film that it can seem almost overwhelming to watch. But gifted filmmaker Martel has crafted an unnervingly internalised thriller for adventurous moviegoers.

When Veronica (Onetto), a respected wife and mother, hits something with her car, she starts to become disconnected from the bustling, well-heeled European society she lives in, haunted by the indigenous people living around the edges of her life. This is clearly caused by guilt, but is that due to her affair with an in-law (Genoud) or the fact that she may have killed someone. As her mental confusion grows, her husband (Bordon) and lover seem to close ranks around her to make everything right again.

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Broken Embraces [los Abrazos Rotos] Review


Excellent
Perhaps not as dazzling as Almodovar's masterpieces, this film is still an involving and sleekly well-made melodrama touching on his usual themes of romance, death and parentage. It also has some terrific noir touches as it dips into ambition and revenge.

Mateo (Homar) is a filmmaker who, after going blind, has locked himself in his Madrid flat writing scripts with Diego (Novas), son of his loyal agent (Portillo). Then he hears of the death of wealthy financier Ernesto (Gomez), who 14 years earlier had bankrolled a film project starring his trophy mistress Lena (Cruz), who was desperate to get out of the relationship. Back then, as Lena and Mateo started spending rather too much time together, Ernesto sent his teen son (Ochandiano) to follow them, ostensibly to film a making-of doc.

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The Flower of My Secret Review


Excellent
I've never enjoyed chick flicks.

Films like Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason strike me as cinematic equivalents to crack pipe hits for girls. They are down and dirty, pass the goods, quick fixes. Most chick flicks aren't even romantic, unless your idea of romance is watching two people kiss, fight, and babble like infants. They hardly qualify as comedies, either; most are middling, sentimental and absurd. (Before the hate mail pours in, "guy" flicks are just as mindless: monotonous action, deus ex machina, T&A, and unremitting explosions. Neither is the victor in a contest for taste.) Good comedic romances, true romantic comedies, are very hard to come by. The Flower of My Secret is one of those rare romantic comedies that is both very romantic and quite funny.

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Volver Review


Excellent
Pedro Almodóvar's Volver is a witty and woozy paean to the off-kilter wonder that is Spanish womanhood. Again. At this stage in his career, one isn't expecting too much else from Almodóvar than further explorations of the semi-camp, lightly magical territory that he has staked out as his own for close to three decades now; but that doesn't mean he can't still astonish. Unlike Woody Allen, who also works within a similarly rich but limited set of constraints, Almodóvar manages to make each film seem like an entirely new creation.

Volver starts with a wonderfully lyrical scene in which the old women of a rural village clean the headstones in a graveyard during a fantastic windstorm -- the blowing leaves quickly render absurd any cleaning. The village is a slightly unreal place anyway, populated mostly by the very old (in actuality, a common occurrence in Spain) and known far and wide for the wind, which is reputed to drive the inhabitants insane. The stars are a pair of sisters, Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and Sole (Lole Dueñas) who long ago decamped for Madrid, much like Almodóvar himself did as a child (he shot the village scenes in his hometown of La Mancha). The sisters' parents died in a fire years back, but they return on occasion to check in on their elderly aunt, Paula (Chus Lampreave, who has mellowed here somewhat since her hilariously venomous turn in Almodóvar's 1995 film The Flower of My Secret). They still feel that tenuous link to their ancestral village, but with their parents dead and unfulfilling lives in the city, the two seem stuck in a hazy netherworld, home in neither place.

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The Secret Life of Words Review


Grim

The electro-jazz two-step that plays as the credits roll over the beginning of Isabel Coixet's The Secret Life of Words is terribly misleading, as is most of the music that is used in the film: David Byrne, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Portuguese pop. The only song that fits in fact, besides the small bursts of wind instruments and opera, is Antony and the Johnson's harrowing "Hope There's Someone," a song so morose, moody, and beautiful that when it's used, my attention strained more to it than of Coixet's images. There's a reason for that.

Josef (Tim Robbins) lies on a bed, blinded and scarred by a fire that killed his best friend on the oil rig they both worked on. Hanna (Sarah Polley), on forced vacation from her warehouse work employer, quickly takes a temporary position as his nurse, doing anything to stay in some sort of routine. She starts out isolated and completely silent but she soon befriends the men on the oil rig while tending to the charming but haunted Josef. She talks about food and jokes with Simon the chef (Javier Cámara) and talks about waves and the sea with the nervy Martin (Daniel Mays). However, she doesn't really reveal herself to anyone but Josef, and most of the film is made up of conversations between them. When it becomes obvious that Josef needs more serious work, Hanna spends a last night with him, telling him about why she is so reserved and regulated. Josef gets better and attempts to reconnect with Hanna through her counselor (Julie Christie) and sees if they might have something real between them.

Continue reading: The Secret Life of Words Review

The Secret Life of Words Review


Grim
The electro-jazz two-step that plays as the credits roll over the beginning of Isabel Coixet's The Secret Life of Words is terribly misleading, as is most of the music that is used in the film: David Byrne, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Portuguese pop. The only song that fits in fact, besides the small bursts of wind instruments and opera, is Antony and the Johnson's harrowing "Hope There's Someone," a song so morose, moody, and beautiful that when it's used, my attention strained more to it than of Coixet's images. There's a reason for that.

Josef (Tim Robbins) lies on a bed, blinded and scarred by a fire that killed his best friend on the oil rig they both worked on. Hanna (Sarah Polley), on forced vacation from her warehouse work employer, quickly takes a temporary position as his nurse, doing anything to stay in some sort of routine. She starts out isolated and completely silent but she soon befriends the men on the oil rig while tending to the charming but haunted Josef. She talks about food and jokes with Simon the chef (Javier Cámara) and talks about waves and the sea with the nervy Martin (Daniel Mays). However, she doesn't really reveal herself to anyone but Josef, and most of the film is made up of conversations between them. When it becomes obvious that Josef needs more serious work, Hanna spends a last night with him, telling him about why she is so reserved and regulated. Josef gets better and attempts to reconnect with Hanna through her counselor (Julie Christie) and sees if they might have something real between them.

Continue reading: The Secret Life of Words Review

My Life Without Me Review


Grim
Focusing an entire dramatic film on death can be tricky. Death drives an enormous range of emotions, from fear to sadness, to curiosity; yet, most movies treat death with overwrought nobility, excessive weepiness, or yikes, both (see: Pay It Forward). Spanish director Isabel Coixet's first English-language feature suffers from the first sin, treating a young women's impending death with a stagy aloofness that cheats the film of more complex emotions.

The unfortunate woman is 24-year-old Ann (the always appealing Sarah Polley), a struggling wife and mother who learns that a raging cancer will kill her in just a few months. Ann's initial response is to hide the news from her mother (Deborah Harry); very matter-of-factly, she continues to follow that M.O. by telling no one, including her husband Don (Scott Speedman, grinning way too much).

Continue reading: My Life Without Me Review

The Flower of My Secret Review


Excellent
I've never enjoyed chick flicks.

Films like Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason strike me as cinematic equivalents to crack pipe hits for girls. They are down and dirty, pass the goods, quick fixes. Most chick flicks aren't even romantic, unless your idea of romance is watching two people kiss, fight, and babble like infants. They hardly qualify as comedies, either; most are middling, sentimental and absurd. (Before the hate mail pours in, "guy" flicks are just as mindless: monotonous action, deus ex machina, T&A, and unremitting explosions. Neither is the victor in a contest for taste.) Good comedic romances, true romantic comedies, are very hard to come by. The Flower of My Secret is one of those rare romantic comedies that is both very romantic and quite funny.

Continue reading: The Flower of My Secret Review

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