Movie Review: A Moonless Night (2014)

Title: Una noche sin luna
Release Date: 19 September 2014
Director: Germán Tejeira
Production Company:  Raindogs Cine | El Calefón Cine

Structured in three segments, A Moonless Night tells the stories of three different middle-aged men who travel to a small town in Uruguay on New Year’s Eve.  Cesar attends a party at his ex-wife’s house and attempts to connect with his 5-year-old daughter.  Magician Antonio is stranded when his car breaks down and attempts to make a connection with Laura, the toll operator on a lonely stretch of road.  Miquel is furloughed from prison to perform at community center party in the town.  It’s a short movie that manages to pack a lot of emotion in its three short vignettes.

The vibe of this movie feels a lot like the similarly structured Mystery Train. All three stories share common elements such as power outages and the countdown to midnight.  The voice of Tom Waits even makes an appearance when his song “Lullaby” plays over the denouement, a surprise in a movie where everything else in the Spanish language.  Ultimately this is a slow-moving, melancholy movie that captures the tragicomedy of everyday life.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Happy Together (1997)

Title: Happy Together
Release Date: 30 May 1997
Director: Wong Kar-wai
Production Company: Jet Tone Production | Block 2 Pictures | Seowoo Film Company | Prénom H Co. Ltd.

Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) are an on-again/off-again couple.  They travel to Argentina where they lose all their money and have to take jobs to earn money to return home.  Their tempestuous relationship further erodes until it falls apart and they both hit rock bottom. I found it unsettling how the film depicts the domestic violence between Lai and Ho, so consider that a content warning if you are similarly sensitive.

As is the style of Wong Kar-wai, Happy Together uses brilliant imagery to depict images and moods rather than plot.  The music in the soundtrack is also expertly matched even when used for ironic effect, like the title song (a cover of The Turtles’ “Happy Together” by Danny Chung appears at the end).  For a movie from the 1990s, it feels very progressive for telling a warts and all story about a same-sex couple.  But for all it’s great artistry and storytelling, I guess I’m the philistine who has to admit I found it a bit slow for my taste.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Gilda (1946)

Title: Gilda
Release Date: March 14, 1946
Director: Charles Vidor
Production Company: Columbia Pictures

An itinerant gambler from America, Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), arrives in Argentina where he meets the proprietor of an illegal casino, Ballin Mundson (George Macready). Farrell gains Mundson’s trust and gets hired as a casino manager. A while later, Mundson returns from his travels with a newlywed wife, Gilda (Rita Hayworth), a woman from Farrell’s past.  Farrell finds himself in the position of having to watch over Gilda’s scandalous behaviors, and the love/hate feelings between Gilda and himself.  Meanwhile, German mobsters are on Mundson’s tail in regards to a tungsten cartel.

Like a lot of film noir, Gilda doesn’t make a lot of sense plotwise, and it’s particularly hard to figure out the characters’ motivations.  But this is a movie that’s all about the vibes.  And the vibiest of all is the electric performance by Hayworth at Gilda.  She even does a couple of hot musical numbers although Anita Ellis dubs her singing voice.

I’m sure that people could write an entire book of essays about questions raised by this film (Does Farrell have a same sex attraction for Mundson?  What exactly was the nature of Farrell and Gilda’s past?) Mostly I just enjoyed chilling in the balcony of the Brattle Theater while soaking up the excess of Classic Hollywood.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Saludos Amigos (1942)

Title: Saludos Amigos
Release Date: August 24, 1942
Director: Norman Ferguson | Wilfred Jackson | Jack Kinney | Hamilton Luske | Bill Roberts
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions

Saludos Amigos is the first of the package films Disney released in the 1940s, and due to the random order of my viewing, the last I watched.  This movie is most directly connected to the Walt Disney company’s goodwill tour of Latin America in 1941, and features full-color documentary footage of Disney artists traveling by plane around South America.

The short film features four segments, one each set in Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil.  “Lake Titicaca” features Donald Duck visiting the titular lake as a tourist.  “Pedro” is the story of young airplane making his first flight to collect the mail in a journey over the Andes.  In “El Gaucho Goofy” the American cowboy and the Argentian gaucho are compared and contrasted.  The final and best segment, “Aquarela do Brasil,” introduces José Carioca, who teaches Donald Duck to dance the samba. Amazingly enough, the famous title song was only a few years old at the time this movie was made, and Disney actually made it popular in the United States!

The film is slight, but enjoyable enough, especially the music.

Rating: ***

World Cup Round of 16 Rooting Interests and Predictions

After an exciting round of group play, the knock-out rounds for the 2014 World Cup begin today.  Below I’ve listed the teams I’m rooting for and the teams I expect to win (not always the same) for each game.

28 June 2014

Brazil vs. Chile

This is a tough call.  I have a soft spot for Chile and they acquitted themselves well in group play, but I’ve always liked Brazil and it would be tragic if the host nation exited the tournament this early (especially after having to endure all the corporate, government, and FIFA corruption).  That being said, I expect Brazil will have no problem winning this game and probably advance at least to the semifinals.

Supporting: Brazil           Prediction: Brazil

Colombia vs. Uruguay

Colombia is one of the most exciting teams in the tournament with the most feverish fans.  Uruguay did well in group play, but aren’t going to go far without their bitey star Luis Suarez.  Colombia is an easy team to support and pick for the win.

Supporting: Colombia         Prediction: Colombia

It’s interesting that four of the five remaining South American teams are essentially playing for one semifinal spot.  I expect that Brazil will advance from this group of four, but the Brazil versus Colombia quarterfinal has the potential to be an exciting match.

29 June 2014

Netherlands vs. Mexico

Mexico is our biggest rival, but I’ve been swayed to their side this World Cup for several reasons:  CONCACAF regional pride, the performance of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the exburance of coach Miguel Herrera, and their exciting style of play in a tough group.  I adopted the Netherlands in 2010 as my team to support after the US elimination (mainly because I had just visited Amsterdam that year), but the karate chop performance of the final kind of took the bloom off that rose.  Still, the Netherlands look like a dominant side that may advance all the way to the final again, and will be hard for Mexico to beat.

Supporting: Mexico          Prediction: Netherlands

Costa Rica vs. Greece

Costa Rica’s team is the surprise of the tournament, giant-killers in what should’ve been the toughest group.  It’s hard not to like Los Ticos.  Greece are also surprise members of the final 16.  However, they haven’t shown a lot of skill in the group stage.  I expect another Costa Rica win.

Supporting: Costa Rica     Prediction: Costa Rica

An all CONCACAF quarterfinal would be a thrilling thing, but I expect that the Netherlands will progress to the semifinals from this group of four.

30 June 2014

France vs. Nigeria

I tend to root for the underdogs, so I have to favor Nigeria here, but France is looking like one of the top teams in the tournament, so I don’t have much hope for the African side.

Supporting: Nigeria         Prediction: France

Germany vs. Algeria

Algeria is the other surviving African team who’ve drawn tough European competition in Germany.  I’ll root for Algeria, but expect Germany to make it at least to the semifinal.

Supporting: Algeria          Prediction: Germany

There’s an opportunity for an all-African quarterfinal coming out this group of four, but it’s more likely that European neighbors Germany and  France will meet to decide a spot in the final four.

1 July 2014

Argentina vs. Switzerland

I’ve not been impressed by Argentina who  won a weak group by basically holding out for a Lionel Messi wondergoal.  On the other hand, Argentina has enough talent that should be able to advance as far as the semifinal without breaking much of a sweat.  I haven’t got much of a sense of Switzerland, but I’ll be rooting for them just so that USA would have a more potentially beatable side in the quarterfinal, should it come to that.

Supporting: Switzerland       Prediction:  Argentina

Belgium vs. United States

Sure, Belgium is a dark horse to win the World Cup, and sure they won all three of their group matches.  Sure, the United States has struggled and only just made it out of group play.  But Belgium played in one of the weakest groups, while the United States faced down three challenging opponents without ever throwing in the towel.  I believe that we will win.

Supporting:  United States       Prediction: United States

While I think that the United States can make it to the quarterfinal, Argentina is the prohibitive favorite of this group of four.  Still, Iran held Argentina scoreless for 90 minutes, so maybe someone can pull of a miracle win.

Book Review: Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar

Hopscotch (1966) by Julio Cortázar is my Around the World for a Good Book selection for Argentina. It’s also a very complex novel following in a trend started by Gate of the Sun and Billiards at Half-Past Nine. I need to start reading pulp novels and mind candy from around the world. Hopscotch is particularly challenging in that it is the ultimate hypertext in that you can read it straight through chapters 1-59 (discarding the expendable chapters) , read it in a jumbled order of chapters prescribed by the author, or in any order the reader likes. I tried the second method until my innate need for linearity took over and I read 1-59 “with a clean conscience”.

The novel follows Horacio Oliveira as he wanders around Paris obsessing over his lover La Maga. Horacio and his friends have deep philosophical conversations about love, art, jazz, and literature. Many chapters are pure dialog and philosophical meandering. There’s lots of random sex and misery and one point a child dies tragically. Horacio returns to Buenos Aires and works a series of odd jobs including a circus and mental institution. Horacio falls for a woman who is a double for La Maga and slowly goes mad himself.

That’s the basic gist, but wow is this a complex novel. It’s beautiful and thoughtfully written but I just don’t get it.

Author: Cortázar, Julio.
Title: Hopscotch. Translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa.
Publication: Info. New York, Pantheon Books [1966]
Description: 564 p. 22 cm.