This Week's Film Reviews (Oct 28, 2011)

28 Oct 2011

Two top Spanish films open this week – not to be missed.  First is the 2009 CELL 211 and the other with Almodovar at his best, THE SKIN I LIVE IN.

ANONYMOUS (Germany 2011) **
Directed by Roland Emmerich

ANONYMOUS runs on the premise on whether the great Bard was a fake or the real author of the intellectual famous works and plays.  The assumption is that most audiences would be dearly concerned and upset if Shakespeare was not the true author.

So begins blockbuster director Roland Emmerich’s (INDEPENDENCE DAY, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW) elaborate period tale.  It begins with actor Derek Jacobi (recognisable to most) delivering his spill about an alternative story on who wrote the works.  The film turns back time to reveal what could have happened.

Emmerich and screenwriter John Orloff take the mysterious circumstances of de Vere’s (Rhys Ifans) birth, as well as the rumours surrounding his possible affair with Queen Elizabeth (Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson, Vanessa’s daughter), as the motivation behind the playwright’s place as a political tool in the Essex plot to claim the throne.  The weaving of the tales is intriguing enough and made quite credible.

Director Emmerich is dead serious on his subject.  Every event points back to the premise and he concocts the climax of the film to whether the original manuscripts were burnt or not.  But it is doubtful if all audiences would feel the same way. Who really cares (except perhaps the most devout or literature scholars) but for the point that his works cares till performed to this day.  That is the reason the film really takes off when Emmerich shows the plays (Hamlet, Twelfth Night among them) performed in front of a lively audience.

The film’s production values are impressive with the sets and wardrobe looking mostly stunning.

Emmerich’s film contains segments that remind one of his blockbuster days.  The segment of the CGI generated British subjects in the snowy Kingdom is an example of excess.   The film contains one swordfight scene and a pyrotechnic scene which also reminds that the director loves his action bits.

But the trouble with this film is that despite its interesting subject, the film fails to hold its audience captive.  For one, Emmerich takes his time to establish what is going on and who each character is in the scheme of things.  The decision to use Jacobi to frame his picture is also a safe and predictable tactic.  But the sore point is that all of what is going on fails to come together as a strong narrative, unaided by the fact that it is not really important to most whether Shakespeare is the original author of his plays.

CELL 211 (Spain/France 2009) *****

Directed by Daniel Monzon

The first 5 minutes of CELL 211 graphically displaying a suicide by the slitting of a prisoner’s wrists in a toilet bowl sets the tone of the director Monzon’s uncompromising film about the situation of Spanish jails.

Played as a suspense thriller, CELL 211 sets a message about humanitarian treatment, loyalty and betrayal.  The story centres on a new prison guard, Juan Oliver (Alberto Ammann) who by accident is left in CELL 211 when some ceiling plaster knocks him unconscious.  Then a riot occurs.  Mistaken as another prisoner, Juan must pretend to be one to survive.  He develops a relationship with the riot’s violent leader Malamadre (Luis Tosar).  But negotiations go haywire when Juan’s pregnant wife is accidentally killed by the guards and Juan takes the prisoners side demanding prison reforms.  Tosar delivers an unforgettable performance of the riot leader intent on keeping a tough image as does Ammann as a sane man who finally loses it.

This is a gripping suspense thriller that is as powerful as its message itself.

But CELL 211 is a director’s film, compelling from start to finish.  Monzon won the Spanish Goya award for Best New Director for his first feature HEART OF THE WARRIOR.  CELL 211 proves that Monzon is a director to watch in the future.  CELL 211 was first premiered in 2009 at the Toronto International Film Festival, but the film is a worthwhile wait.  The film won 9 Goya awards including Best Film, Best Actor and Best Director!

INNI (Iceland/UK/Canada 2011) ***

Directed by Vincent Morriset

The sounds of the Icelandic group Sigur Rós in the film INNI are not what most might have heard nor expect.  The film likewise may be enjoyed by a select few.

Nevertheless, the audience will be in for a rare experience or a really good time if familiar with the band.  As one of the members of Sigur Rós put it, “We are a serious heavy metal rock band. We worship the devil.  We play for him.”  Whether truth or joke, the saying makes sense.

Director Morriset attempts to interview the group without much fruition.  When asked what influenced their music, the answer is a complete silence.  So, this second doc on the group by the same director concentrates instead on their concert performances.  HEIMA, the first film positioned the group in the context of their Icelandic homeland, providing geographical, social and historical perspectives on their music.  In contrast, INNI is spare and near-monochromatic in its tunnel vision. Filmed in a manner that invites both intimacy and claustrophobia, INNI cocoons the viewer in a one-on-one relationship with the band, eschewing the audience for closeness, depicting how it feels for both band and fan to experience Sigur Rós live.

Shot in black and white, the screen often turns to complete white as the strobe lights dazzle during the performances.  Electronic sounds are plentiful with the vocals by the lead singers mimicing these sounds.

INNIS covers songs (if they can be called songs) from the band’s four albums.  The film is a must for fans and a riveting introduction for the uninitiated if daring enough.

Click on the link below for the film’s trailer to experience the sounds:


Directed by Pedro Almodovar

The latest from Almodovar finds the Master in top form.  THE SKIN I LIVE IN is classic camp Hammer horror but Almodovar gives it his wicked but colourful touch.

Based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel Tarantula, the plot follows Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas – his first film with Almodovar in 20 years), a hand­some and wealthy plastic surgeon with a tragic past. His nefarious obsession with transgenic therapy — a way of strengthen­ing human skin through the use of animal genes — incites contention among his col­leagues and prompts his withdrawal from the community.  After his wife is burnt terribly in a car crash and his mentally ill daughter is raped, he kidnaps her rapist and performs his skin experiments on him transforming him into the beautiful young Vera (Elena Anaya).

Humorously garbed in a body stocking and kept captive in a room where she’s monitored day and night. Dr. Ledgard’s only confidant is his house­keeper Marilia (Marisa Paredes), who ensures that the macabre surgeries per­formed in the private operating theatre adjoining his home remain secret.  But when the house is broken into, events lead to Robert having sex and falling for Vera (a touch of paedophilia) and lots more of sexual excesses and ambiguities.

Though the plot requires a bit of a struggle (all of Almodovar’s recent films have lengthy times for plot revelation) to follow owing to the excess of flashbacks, the trouble is well worth it.  Camera angles, flashy colour, melodrama, camp, references to old movies and other Almodovar movies, sex and more sex, THE SKIN I LIVE IN is pure Almodovar delight!

Best Film Opening This Week:  Cell 211 and The Skin I Live In
Best Film Playing: The Ides of March


Best Comedy: Bridesmaids
Best Family: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Best Documentary: Revenge of the Electric Car
Best Foreign: Poetry, Cell 211 and The Skin I Live In

Avoid:  Abduction

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