Tag: javier bardem

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Released six years after the fourth installment swan song that is “On Stranger Tides,” Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is barely a much-needed electric shock to the rotting “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. The action sequences are familiar and formulaic, the jokes are obvious and dead dull, even the performances come across as though the returning actors are merely cashing in. It is depressing how far this series has fallen.

There are two new faces in this unimaginative entry: a suspected witch named Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) whose made it her life’s work to find Poseidon’s trident using her father’s diary as a guide and a young sailor for the Royal Navy named Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) whose mission is to set his father free from a curse that tethers him to the bottom of the ocean. Although Scodelario and Thwaites possess promising movie star faces and they look good together (from the first moment Carina and Henry meet it is hammered to us that a romantic connection will brew between the two), their characters are not written with a sharpness, freshness, or memorability. We never get a chance to measure their intelligence or resourcefulness. They’re just in it for the ride.

Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson makes the mistake of drawing numerous parallels between this new couple and the old pair we’ve come to know, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (played by the effortlessly charming Orlando Bloom and the luminous Keira Knightley). Banters are forced, awkward, and unconvincing because it is assumed that the performers share chemistry. (They don’t.) The picture is so busy either bombarding us with expository dialogue or drowning us with poorly choreographed action sequences that it forgets to approach Carina and Henry’s possible romantic connection with a genuine humanist angle. When they finally share a kiss late in the picture we ask ourselves what they see in one another.

Johnny Depp phones it in yet again as Captain Jack Sparrow. You’d think that throughout the course of five pictures, there would be some growth to the character—not only on paper but also in terms of performance. Depp is given the expected one-liners consisting of puns, dirty jokes, and the freedom that comes with being a barely functioning drunkard—but this had run its course by the second or third film. What makes Jack Sparrow a worthy hero of this storyline? We are not provided a strong answer, but we are handed a flashback with young Depp made possible using CGI. (It’s not as exciting as it sounds.)

Young Sparrow managed to outsmart and outmaneuver Spanish pirates aboard the Silent Mary, whose captain is Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), into the Devil’s Triangle—a cursed place where souls of the shipwrecked remain there for eternity. Salazar wants revenge. Like his co-stars, Bardem is given nothing interesting to do. He glowers and growls yet fails to create convincing menace due to a screenplay so malnourished, it verges on skeletal. I was so bored by Bardem’s villainous character that at some point, I found myself staring at Salazar’s hair, how it moves as if he were constantly underwater. This picture is so recycled from previous entries that not even this visual effect is improved upon.

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” should have remained submerged in the deep. Nearly everything about it reeks of exhaustion. It peaks early on when Sparrow’s bank heist goes awry. I chuckled at this scene because it reminded me of Justin Lin’s “Fast Five,” how something so ridiculous is shaped into bona fide entertainment. But when the characters are aboard the ship, the film rocks us to sleep despite the swashbuckling score booming in the background.


mother! (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Too many movies of today are so bland, so vanilla, they are forgotten even before the credits roll. I believe the great thing about “mother!,” written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, is that the viewer will not walk away from it without an opinion or, at the very least, a strong impression—even if, at the time, one is unable to put into words the blender of emotions that come with the experience. Yes, it can be maddening at times, particularly the final forty minutes, but it is also intriguing as a horror film. Polarity is interesting.

There is curiosity in the story because it appears to follow a familiar horror template of a couple (Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem) living in isolation whose peace is disturbed by strangers (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer). We observe as the elements are introduced and fall into place like clockwork until we come to a conclusion as to what might be going on underneath the niceties and sudden passive-aggressive remarks. I thought the revelation is going to be deathly similar to a certain psychological horror film from the 1960s that was written and directed by Roman Polanski. I was elated to have been proven wrong.

Although not the most digestible work, I enjoyed putting some of the pieces together and realizing eventually that these pieces can also fit together a different way, paving several other ways to interpret the message of the story. To me, it is a criticism of how our society, certainly applicable to American standards, has normalized women having a certain place and for them to defy or step over the line that has been drawn by patriarchy is considered to be horrific by those in power. An evidence of this observation is when Lawrence’s character finds herself reluctant to take action or ashamed when she feels the need to speak up and inform her guests, whom her husband has welcomed, that they need to leave. After all, we have this idea that women are supposed to bear the inconvenience of having a chaotic home and get it all under control.

But interesting messages do not necessarily make a good movie. There is craft to appreciate here, particularly in how the writer-director builds the tension behind the mystery. It is done through showing curious images like a mass of deformed tissue clogging up a toilet, a strange bloody hole on the wooden floor, a possible hidden door in the cellar. One can even study the face of the husband when his wife attempts to encourage him through his writer’s block. There is almost always a hint of annoyance and frustration there. Perhaps a part of him considers that the mothering is contributing to his state of stagnancy.

Most problematic is the final third of the project because the metaphor is so heavy and long-winded that it tests the viewers patience more than it demands to be carefully considered, to be thought about. Credit to Aronofsky for making the assumption that some viewers would be willing to look past the extreme and desultory images. However, this portion of the film comes across as self-congratulatory, perhaps even self-masturbatory, rather than something to be appreciated in silence. Sometimes subtlety and silence is the correct way to go about an allegory.

Live Flesh

Live Flesh (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

Isabel (Penélope Cruz), a prostitute, is in labor and a friend (Pilar Bardem) opts to help her deliver the baby on the bus while on their way to the hospital. The newborn is named Víctor. Twenty years later, Víctor (Liberto Rabal) calls from a pay phone outside of a drug addict’s apartment. Elena (Francesca Neri) declines to allow him to come up because she cannot remember agreeing to go on a date with him a week prior. Still, Víctor finds a way to get in. A gun is fired and the neighbors call the police.

David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (José Sancho) are summoned to investigate the call. While Víctor and Sancho wrestle for the gun, David turns away from the scuffle to tell Elena to run downstairs. The gun goes off.

Based on a novel by Ruth Rendel and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, “Carne trémula” is an elegantly constructed story about obsession. Víctor is obsessed with Elena but he is not the kind of creep who sneaks into her house and steals memorabilia for his shrine. He is charming on the outside but holds a darkness within. The kind of things he considers valuable are of his memories with her. Since he can take those memories wherever he goes, images of her face, her body, and her quirks constantly bounce around in his head.

His actions are driven by this obsession. After being released from jail, he decides to volunteer at a children’s center that Elena helped to finance because he knows that sooner or later, she will have to come in and interact with the staff. Since he cannot be with her, given that she has married David during his years of incarceration for shooting a cop, being around her will have to do for the time being.

Sex is never used as a product of, or through an act of, love. Rather, it is used as a means to an end and a catalyst that highlights the broken part of the characters. For example, initially, David and Elena look like a perfect fit. While in prison, Víctor, raging with jealousy, watches them hug and kiss on TV. But when David is shot in the back, the bullet severs his spine and the injury leaves him unable to move his lower limbs. As a result, David and Elena are not able to have a normal sex life.

He gives her oral sex and she is able to experience pleasure, but a woman needs every part of a man–physically, emotionally, psychologically–to be fully fulfilled. Elena is not fulfilled. If David is not able to tell, and a fool he is not, that is because Elena goes on great lengths to hide it. That is when Víctor comes in. The way I saw it, Elena considers him as the reason why she cannot be fully happy with her husband even though she loves him–and he loves her–dearly. At the same time, she sees Víctor as a person who she knows is messed up in the head but is able to give her his all.

Almodóvar is melds disparate emotions and psychology to make intricate patterns about human behavior and desires without coming off as forced or one note. There is an excellent scene when David visits Víctor to warn that he ought to away from Elena. Víctor asks, in a mocking way, what David is going to do if he does not. The husband punches the stalker where it hurts, but instead of exploding into a fight, the two end up cheering together because their fútbol team scores a great point on TV. Even though the two are opposite forces on collision, the scene puts them on common ground.

“Carne trémula,” also known as “Live Flesh,” is in control of its themes. Its assured direction anchors the abrupt changes in our sentiments toward the people on screen as well as the characters’ opinions of one another. The answers are never easy or predictable as our feelings for another person does not reflect that of a straight line.


Skyfall (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Two MI6 agents lie dead on the floor while the third sits on a chair as he bleeds to death. The item of interest, a hard drive which contains the identities of NATO agents currently immersed in undercover work among terrorist organizations, is taken from a laptop just minutes before. M (Judi Dench) insists that James Bond (Daniel Craig) retrieve the item at all costs. A failure in Turkey means putting lives at risk as well as a justified questioning of the effectiveness of MI6’s current leadership.

“Skyfall,” written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, is a concerto of thrills and suspense in which the highly destructive action sequences balances with nuanced, smart, and playful dialogue. The film has a flair for presentation which makes its individual scenes both a sight to behold and an enveloping experience. It understands the value of range and how to utilize its techniques with efficiency.

Take the scenes set in Shanghai in which the visuals point to excess. The skyscrapers are majestic under the heavy shade of night with their lights so bright and hypnotic, it is like being dropped in the middle of downtown Las Vegas on acid, so much to see and digest while the camera teases, only giving us glimpses of its beauty. On the other hand, scenes set in a casino in Macau provide us a smaller scope without sacrificing the elegance and grandeur of the place. As it should be, each destination that 007 visits has something special and memorable for its audience so we feel excited at the thought of what it might offer in the following exotic locale.

Despite the glitz and glamour, the goals that need to be fulfilled are always clear. Once the assignment is met with success or failure, it is onto the next scene, unpredictable at times in whether the screenplay is going to increase the ante by introducing yet another drop of complexity or giving us two seconds to release the tension that has accumulated in our bodies via a well-placed joke or banter. Bond’s interactions with the brainy Q (Ben Whishaw), effeminate but dangerous Silva (Javier Bardem), and inexperienced but determined Eve (Naomie Harris) are so enjoyable, I wished their conversations are longer. By playing with our expectations, not simply focusing on making the action scenes bigger and louder, the picture jolts our brains from going on autopilot, just waiting to be entertained.

Notice that there is not one completely original action sequence and yet all of them work because it is able to draw inspiration from the game-changers and construct the stunts in a such a way that it feels fresh to this universe, from an appropriate number of beats between uncomfortable silence and utter chaos to specific shots cheeky enough to remind us that Bond remains a legend and an inspiration because he is the epitome of a debonair man in a timeless suit.

Perhaps most importantly, Sam Mendes, the director, plays upon his strengths as a filmmaker whose work is mostly rooted in intimate drama. Most interesting being that as the film slinks toward its third act, it has a feeling of something personal at stake for Bond. While he remains a cool-headed professional, the difficult, almost inescapably desperate, circumstances remind us that even though he is trained to be as tough as steel, as calculating as an apex predator, and as cold-hearted as a bullet set on a specific trajectory, there remains a humanity in him. While Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” gave us a Bond with emotional fragility, Mendes’ “Skyfall” is a fitting complement because it gives us a Bond with depth and physical vulnerability.

The Sea Inside

The Sea Inside (2004)
★★★ / ★★★★

This picture is based on the true story of Ramón Sampedro and his campaign in support of euthanasia which lasted for thirty years. Written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, although the issue the film tried to tackle is controversial and serious, he’s smart enough to make the film somewhat uplifting so it doesn’t feel at all heavy-handed. Javier Bardem made me feel so much for his character because of his willingness to die with whatever dignity he has left. Being a quadriplegic, he claims that his life should be treated as a right and not an obligation. Therefore, just like any other right, he should be allowed to give up his right to live and not be forced to stay alive by the government and other groups who oppose euthanasia. I thought the most interesting scenes in the film consisted of Bardem interacting with three characters: his lawyer who has her own share of problems that is similar to Bardem (Belén Rueda), a local woman who falls for Bardem (Lola Dueñas) and a nephew that he sees as his own son (Tamar Novas). Each of those three characters are compelling because even though they have their own opinion regarding Sampedro’s situation, not all of them are able to express their complete thoughts. It’s up to the audiences to interpret the three characters’ positions when they’re on their own or not interacting with Bardem. I also enjoyed the fact that both sides of the subject of euthanasia are able to express their arguments. Personally, I support euthanasia because I believe in our individual rights to do whatever we want with our bodies, especially when we’re in a situation where we no longer want to continue to live. But there were arguments here and there that made me question my own beliefs because we are shown that the issue of euthanasia goes beyond moral and legal issues. This is a rich film because its writing has substance that works on multiple levels and the characters have subtlety that will otherwise be missed if one is not invested in the story. I recommend this film to everyone, whether one may or may not support euthanasia, because it offers no easy answer regarding which side is “right.” It’s main goal is to simply show one man’s life and what he stood for.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I knew Woody Allen still has it in him to make a really good film. After the wishy-washy “Scoop” and “Cassandra’s Dream,” a lot of people began to lose hope once again because they wanted a film as great as “Match Point.” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is sexy, character-driven and sublime. The premise is two best friends (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson) spend a summer in Barcelona and unexpectedly fall for an artistic and charismatic Spaniard (Javier Bardem). At first I thought I could relate more with Hall because she’s sensible and she knows exactly what she wants. But as the film went on, I could identify with Johansson more because she doesn’t limit herself by following society’s labels. She’s very open to things that can enlighten her not just intellectually but spiritually as well. Things get more complicated when the Bardem’s ex-wife, played by the gorgeous Penélope Cruz who deserves an Oscar nomination, returns after trying to kill herself. She provided that extra spice that the film needed in order be more romantic not in a safe way, but in a dangerous and unpredictable manner. I was impressed with this picture because each scene felt so organic. The characters talked and acted like real people, which I think is difficult to accomplish in a story about the complex dynamics between the characters. All of the actors had something to do and impacted each other in both subtle and profound ways. Another factor that I admired about this film is its stark contrast between American and European. The most obvious one includes Hall’s business-minded, unexciting husband (Chris Messina) compared to raw, passionate Bardem. One can also argue that Hall is more American while Johansson is more European. These differences even go as far as which types of clothes the characters wear. As much as I loved this film, I cannot give it a four-star rating because it needed an extra thirty minutes to reach a more insightful conclusion. I don’t mean tying up some loose ends in order for everyone to be happy. In fact, I love that this film was bold enough to leave some unhappy characters. It’s just that, in a Woody Allen film, you expect something more profound, something more complete. It’s not as introspective as “Match Point” but it comes very close.