The Skin I Live In (2011)
★★ / ★★★★
Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) was a renowned plastic surgeon whose wife’s body burned in a car crash while trying to get away with her boyfriend (Roberto Álamo). Robert transported Gal home and took care of her for months, but when she saw her reflection on a window, she jumped out because she couldn’t bear living with her teratoid appearance. Since the tragedy, we learned that Robert had been performing experimental skin treatment on Vera (Elena Anaya). Although artificial, it was resistant to burning and insect bites which was promising for the scientific community. However, Robert’s colleagues were led to believe that he had been experimenting with mice, not on humans. “La piel que habito” had plenty of ideas about how anger and grief could drive a person into trying to achieve something so radical, it threatened to destroy him. The picture was most fascinating when it allowed the camera to observe the surgeon’s work sans dialogue. I liked watching him navigate his hands with precision while cutting a piece of skin and applying it onto his model. When something went wrong, he maintained his composure and consistently found a way to work around the problem–a quality that also served him well outside the lab. By observing his routine, though shot with cold detachment, we learned a lot about his experiment and how invested and desperate he was to make the seemingly impossible a reality. The film held a lot of secrets about identity. The most curious was Vera and why she lived like a prisoner. While it made sense that she lived in a relatively contained environment because her skin was being replaced, there were some red flags that grabbed (or should grab) our attention. For example, she wasn’t allowed any visitors, never handed sharp objects, and there were writing, like tallies of dates, on the walls of her room. If she was a voluntary patient, why was she considered a danger to herself? Pedro Almodóvar, the writer-director, did a solid job on keeping a lid on what was really happening. The less information was available for us to put the pieces together, although I felt a bit of frustration due to its unhurried pacing, the more I felt compelled to think of increasingly ridiculous hypotheses. One of the most interesting characters was Marilia (Marisa Paredes) who, to Robert, was just a trustworthy longtime maid, but was actually his biological mother. I loved looking at her face, the way she moved across the room, and why she was convinced that Robert ought to kill Vera. Marilia provided another layer, if you will, to the story. I just wished that she had been used more. The most critical opportunity that the film lost was not relating its story deeply enough to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his creature. Marilia was Robert’s creator and Vera was Robert’s. Instead of looking to the future and exploring the repercussions of the surgeon’s transgressions, the screenplay went back in time about halfway through and gave us images of what happened to the wife and daughter. While it was necessary for us to know, several lines of dialogue would have sufficed. Based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel “Tarantula,” “The Skin I Live In,” wonderfully shot even without Almodóvar’s usual primary colors, could have used less family history and focused more on horror that came about from ignoring certain moral obligations.
The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)
★★★ / ★★★★
Considered as one of the most important Spanish films, “The Spirit of the Beehive,” written and directed by Victor Erice, tells the story of a little girl named Ana (Ana Torrent) who, after watching the 1931 version of “Frankenstein” and being told by her sister named Isabel (Isabel Tellería) that his spirit exists, goes off to find a real-life monster. I really admired this film because the use of words was minimal yet it was more than able to convey what the characters were thinking and feeling. It truly captured how childhood was the peak of curiosity and how our perception at that point in our lives may be a bit skewed from reality. The way Ana and Isabel tell stories, play games and tricks on each other reminded me and my brother many years ago. I also liked the broken relationship between a husband (Fernando Fernán Gómez) and a wife (Teresa Gimpera). Little do they know that no matter how much they try to interact with their daughters separately (or not interact), the children feel that there’s something wrong even though they do not yet know how to tackle such feelings. The awkward scene at the table when the whole family was eating together was somewhat elusive because I noticed that there was not a frame in the film that each of the family member was in. I think that divide between the two parental figures was another reason why Ana decided to plunge into her own imagination as an escape. The scenes in their big mansion of a home were painful for me to watch because there was a very noticable lack of stimulation such as books and toys for the two children. At least for me, they looked more alive when they were watching a movie in the town, while they were at school, and when they were roaming around outside. This is a very strong motion picture that should be seen by movie-lovers everywhere. However, one should be warned that it requires a lot of patience because it may get a bit slow at times due to the lack of happenings in the small village that they live in. Nonetheless, it’s a rewarding experience because it works on several angles, cinematically and psychologically.
★★ / ★★★★
I really got my hopes up after watching this animated flick’s trailer for the first time but after actually seeing the movie, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed. Igor (John Cusack) wants to be more than a deformed lowly assistant so he figures that he can get the recognition he deserves by creating an evil monster for the Evil Science Fair. Instead, Igor ends up creating a harmless monster who was eventually brainwashed to be an aspiring actress (voiced by the lovely Molly Shannon). The conflict comes in when Dr. Schadenfreude (Eddie Izzard) decides to steal Igor’s invention and pass it as his own in order to be the king of Malaria. One of the many problems that this film has is its many references to “Frankenstein.” Since the filmmakers’ audiences are children, I don’t think they will be able to fully appreciate the references because most of them probably haven’t read the novel or seen any “Frankenstein” films. Sure, the obvious slapstick and winking at the camera are present but those elements won’t satisfy astute adults who want to experience something more rewarding like in “WALL-E” and “Ratatouille.” Another problem I had with the film is the way the story unfolded. I think it spent too much of its time preaching the importance of choosing good over evil (especially toward the end). Actions speak louder than words and the filmmakers could’ve been more efficient by showing the audiences why choosing good is better than evil instead of making big, somewhat meaningless (and cliché) speeches. My favorite part of the film was its most sensitive: when the monster decides to give Igor, Brain (Sean Hayes) and Scamper (Steve Buscemi) gifts. Scenes like that made me not dislike this animated movie as much. Another negative is that sometimes Brain and Scamper outshined Igor. Those two are way too hyper and loud which made them more interesting than the lead character. I did like the syle of animation because it reminded me of “Corpse Bride” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” However, it goes to show that without strong writing, colorful animation can only entertain so much.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
★★★ / ★★★★
I can understand why this film bombed in the box office when it was released but later gained a strong cult following. Even in today’s standards, this still has a very strong shock value because it features transsexual aliens, dirty images and songs, bad special and visual effects (it had a low budget), and a story that doesn’t make any sense. But I found this picture to be very difficult not to enjoy because it is aware of its campiness and shortcomings. I loved the fact that this movie made a plethora of references to the story of Frankenstein but it’s not limited to that. There are a lot of jokes in the background for comedic effect (whether it’s a painting, a banner, or an actor not realizing that he is on camera) even though those jokes are never attended to. It’s really up to the audiences to put some of the pieces together to truly enjoy this cult classic. Susan Sarandon and Barry Bostwick are believable as a WASP couple who gets engulfed in Tim Curry’s world of decadence. Peter Hinwood as Rocky Horror was really funny in his own mute way. Richard O’Brien (who also wrote the film) and Patricia Quinn provided an extra level of camp and originality. As for the songs, I found more than half of them to be very catchy especially “Dammit Janet” (which was sung in a church–it was hilarious), “Time Warp,” “Sweet Transvestite” and “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me.” If you’re look for a film that’s kitschy, sarcastic and bold, this is the one too see. I think it has a solid place in cinematic history because I haven’t seen anything remotely like it.
Gods and Monsters (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based loosely on James Whale’s life, this film is for both the fan of “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” back in the 1930’s and general film lovers. Ian McKellen plays the legendary director with such power and subtlety, I forgot that I was watching an actor playing a part. The way he told his stories about making films, fighting in the war, and falling in love has a certain organic feel to it to the point where I felt like my grandfather was passing on his most treasured memories to me. Brendan Frasier surprised me in this film because I’ve always seen him in comedies and action-comedies, but he was able to deliver as the gardener who craves for something bigger than himself. He is able to mollify the hunger by interacting with McKellen–someone who has done something important in his life. The dynamic between the two leads have a plethora of implications. To be honest, by the end of the picture, I find it difficult to define their relationship. Sure, they’ve become friends but what kind of friendship did they really have? Was it a utility friendship, pleasure friendship, or complete friendship, or a combination of two or three of them? Another stand-out was Lynn Redgrave as Hanna, McKellen’s caretaker. She was so colorful and spunky in her scenes so it’s hard for me not to notice her. Her relationship with McKellen’s character is multidimensional but it never took the focus out of the film’s core. My favorite scenes include McKellen telling his story of the man he truly loved despite the circumstances through which they met, when the film actually reshot some of the scenes from “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein” and when McKellen was finally driven to madness/desperation. Even though this is well-made, this film is not for everyone because it’s really more about the characters, what they’ve been through and where they’re going instead of the plot driving the vehicle to a certain destination. This film has something to say about mortality and how one deals with life after great accomplishments have been achieved. It goes to show that the question of “what if” can be as daunting as asking “what’s next.”