Saturday, February 17, 2007

how i was able to see a double feature without resorting to theft

the balboa theater is one of the oldest film houses in the city. i don't normally go there. the speakers are terrible, the seats aren't that comfortable, and there's always something up with the projector, like framing the subtitles off-screen. but, on the bright side, forgotten by me and pleasantly surprised when reminded, they give you two movies for the price of one - the good ol' school double feature.

tonight had a spanish directing flavor to it.

"children of men"
starring clive owen, julianne moore, michael caine and claire-hope ashitey
written and directed by alfonso cuaron
viewed at the balboa theater, san francisco, ca

immediately, you're struck with a strange and dramatic conflict: the world has some sort of epidemic in which all women are infertile, and the youngest person on earth dies. civilization is falling apart as the population dwindles, and there seems to be some sort of war going on between the government and insurgents. (trust me, i didn't give any secrets away)

compelling, huh?

well, it should have been. it just sounds engrossing. but, unfortunately, the first half of the movie was spent downplaying that tension. i don't really know why. the script was literal and explanatory and trying to be funny, the characters a little too lackadaisical, the plot not really moving much.

i gotta say, really disappointing.

but then we get to the scene.

i've heard from everyone who's seen this movie about this scene - a nine-minute uncut shot following clive owen through a war zone. i love stuff like that. when you don't cut, the scene takes a air of unmatched reality, as if you're right there, unblinking. and that moment in the story, filmed in that fashion, was just spine tingling. nervous.

it's a simple idea achieved in the most complex fashion.

and that's beyond the whole technical achievement of it. you actually feel exactly what's happening at that moment by putting you right there in the thick of it. it's incredibly choreographed and as visceral as humanly possible, with gunfire, explosions, bombs and about seven different locations with a chaos of people running and fighting in different directions.

you have to see it to believe it because it's brilliantly unbelievable.

unlike the famous uncut shot in orson wells' "touch of evil", which served to introduce the movie, this shot absolutely makes this movie by putting you in the movie.

and you don't need to be a film geek to get that. it's obvious.

it's a mindboggling achievement of the highest artistic caliber.

it makes the movie.

it's a shame the rest of the movie didn't come close to that standard.

"pan's labryinth"
starring ivana baquero, maribel verdu and sergi lópez
written and directed by guillermo del toro
viewed at the balboa theater, san francisco, ca

speaking of the highest artistic caliber, we've got your typical adult fairy tale that takes place during the spanish civil war and includes a faun and a fairy. just typing those words might seem like it sucks the big one.

but, in actuality, it's one of the most visually irresistable films i've seen in a long time.

del toro paints two completely different and beautiful worlds: a lavish spanish military outpost in the middle of nowhere, and a grimy underworld dictated by the strange undercurrents of a child's demented imagination. sounds better when i write it like that, huh?

anyways, it's about innocence and brutailty, a harsh world and a child's imagination, and unrelenting storytelling from beginning to end. the writing is superb, the directing is magical and the acting is top-notch. it won a 22 minute standing ovation at cannes. and it won a standing ovation at the small balboa theater just blocks from the pacific.

a movie blurring the lines between make-believe and reality isn't exactly the most original execution. but they way del toro tells it, on such a gorgeous canvas, is a tremendous achievement.

it's scary, nervous, gripping, interesting, emotional, eloquent, bloody and vengeful. it's not for children. hell, it's probably too much for most adults.

was it one of the top five films i've seen this year? if it wasn't, it's damn near close.

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