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Archive for April, 2010

Forget It, Jake. It’s Buenos Aires.

This weekend seems to be the last lull before the summer-movie storm begins in earnest with Iron Man 2 next Friday. (I almost talked myself into Samuel Bayer’s Nightmare on Elm Street remake, out of a fondness for the original, before looking at the reviews and deciding that maintaining my perfect record of never throwing money at Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes was a better way to go.) Nonetheless, if you’re in the mood for some quality cinema, I highly recommend a film I saw last weekend, and the 2010 Best Picture winner, Juan Jose Campanella’s The Secret In Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos.)

At once a police procedural, political thriller, chaste love story, and remembrance of days past, Secret is a hard movie to categorize, but Dana Stevens’ concise summary at Slate — “Imagine a really long, really awesome episode of Law & Order set in Buenos Aires” — is a pretty good start. The thing is, Law & Order in Argentina, particularly ’round the time of the Dirty War, isn’t as black and white as it usually is in our 42-minute visits to the island realm of Jack McCoy and Adam Schiff. In Buenos Aires, as in life, everything gets complicated.

So, how to explain Secret? Well, I was reminded occasionally here of David Fincher’s Zodiac, in that the lingering case at the heart of the story drives some of our characters slightly mad. (The difference being, here an eventual resolution brings little comfort — There are still guilt, complicity, and consequences to contend with.) There’s a bravura sequence in a futbol stadium in the middle going which recalls some of the extended-shot marvels of Alfonse Cuaron’s Children of Men. There’s definitely some of The Wire‘s workingman’s blues and gallows humor here, and and as one of my friends noted, there’s also a good bit of The Remains of the Day in this story too. Taken as a whole, Secret moves to its own unique rhythm, and it is a film that’s definitely worth catching.

The tonal ambiguity of Secret is reflected in the opening moments, as we first meet Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin) — a recently retired ex-lawyer now settling into the writing life — going through the author’s quandary of figuring how to start the book on his brain. First we see and hear that tired romantic cliche, a sad parting at a train station, and a lover chasing down the train. Wait, scratch that. Let’s start with a final breakfast together with the lost lover, and all the details — the honey, the fruit, her floral-print dress, her sun-dappled smile — that can now never be forgotten. No, that’s not it either. So Benjamin falls back to the case file and we witness some brief and dreadful moments in a brutal, bloody rape/homicide. Ugh. That’s no way to start this tale.

Still struggling with his opening chapter, Benjamin visits his old friend and colleague Irene (Soledad Villamil), now a judge in Buenos Aires, who is not particularly enthused to hear that he’s decided to reopen old wounds and write about the tumultuous Morales case. Nonetheless, she gives him an old typewriter (with a broken A) and some excellent advice — Start with what you remember best. And so he does. And soon we find ourselves thirty years in the past, in the small, paper-strewn offices of Ben, Irene, and their semi-functioning alcoholic co-worker Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), just before they pulled the case that transformed their lives.

Particularly by L&O standards, the whodunit aspect of the story is not all that baroque (although it does rely on some potentially clever, potentially dubious po-lice work that helps give the film its name. While I’m on the subject, there’s some implausibly successful good-cop, bad-cop interrogating later on that took me out of the film.) Instead, our investigative trio has much more trouble finding, catching, and holding on to their man after they’ve made him. After all, Argentina between 1976 and 1983 is a slippery place — down is up and up is down, and searching for criminals is no longer a very safe pastime once the criminals are in charge…

I said in my review of Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet that “if The Secret in Their Eyes is better, it must be really something.” And, while I think I ever-so-slightly preferred A Prophet in the end — due to the earlier noted implausibilities here, and because this film’s various acts sometimes feel disconnected from each other– my strong advice is: See them both! A Prophet is a young man’s movie, a coming-of-age, learning-the-ropes story of an ascent into power, while Secret is an older man’s tale, a wistful look back at earlier times and the mistakes, regrets, and chance circumstances that haunted a life. And along with Red Riding, Ellsberg, Terribly Happy, and Kick-Ass, they’re both at the top of my 2010 list so far.

Nano > Chemo?

To create melanin particles tiny enough to squeeze through the liver, lungs, and spleen, Dr. Dadachova and her team layered several coats of synthesized melanin on silica particles. The particles, once injected into mice, clung onto bone marrow, as the researchers intended.

It’s in the air, for you and me…By way of the always illuminating Dangerous Meta, scientists find a possible way to make people radiation resistant via melanin nanoparticles. “Clinical trials testing the melanized particles on cancer patients may begin two or three years. Dr. Dadachova also surmises that the technique has potential for protecting astronauts against radiation exposure.

The Back of another Bat Day.

“‘I’m very excited about the end of the film, the conclusion, and what we’ve done with the characters,’ said Nolan. ‘My brother has come up with some pretty exciting stuff.'” The third and final Christopher Nolan Batman film gets a release date: July 20th, 2012. “Unlike the comics, these things don’t go on forever in film and viewing it as a story with an end is useful. Viewing it as an ending, that sets you very much on the right track about the appropriate conclusion and the essence of what tale we’re telling.‘” (FWIW, whatever Batman III has in store, Nolan seems to have closed the door on Robin awhile ago.)

If I Had a Hammer…

As Iron Man 2 launches in one week (and, if you’re feeling spoilerish, the post-credit sequence has leaked), the next Avenger down the pike, the Mighty Thor, gets ready for his close-up. That’s Chris Hemsworth (formerly Papa Kirk in Star Trek) as the Asgardian in question. Joining him in Kenneth Branagh’s film are Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Anthony Hopkins (Odin), Jaimie Alexander (Sif), Rene Russo (Frigga), Kat Dennings (Darcy), Stellan Skarsgard (Selvia), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Ray Stevenson (Volstagg), and Colm Feore (a villain to be named later — possibly the Destroyer?)

Drill Baby…Spill.

‘There’s no way to wash the oil out of a Spartina marsh,’ said Thomas Shirley, a professor at Texas A&M University’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies. Spartina, or cordgrass, is the dominant plant in these marshes. ‘It’s just a big sponge.” Several weeks after the President embraces coastal offshore drilling, reversing a notable campaign pledge — 11 dimensional chess! — the Fates conspire to remind us all why this might not be a very good idea. Along with the 11 missing (and presumed dead) workers, “Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested that cleanup efforts could end up costing billions of dollars.

Well, I say “the Fates,” but it sounds like Halliburton may have royally screwed up also. But, hey, maybe they’ll acquire another no-bid clean-up contract for their troubles. And speaking of our old friends on the right, it seems the “Drill Baby Drill!” camp has gone mysteriously silent…for now. [Image via Boston’s Big Picture.]

Update: “The problem with the April 20 spill is that it isn’t really a spill: It’s a gush, like an underwater oil volcano. A hot column of oil and gas is spurting into freezing, black waters nearly a mile down, where the pressure nears a ton per inch, impossible for divers to endure. Experts call it a continuous, round-the-clock calamity, unlike a leaking tanker, which might empty in hours or days.” It’s even worse than it sounds, and that’s assuming the wellhead isn’t lost. [Track the spill here.]

(L)East Meets West.

In this week’s trailer bin, M. Night Shyamalan tries to get his groove back with some help from Nicktoons in the new trailer for his live-action version of The Last Airbender, with Noah Ringer, Nicole Peltz, Jackson Rathbone, Dev Patel and Aasif Mandvi. Sorry, M. Night, but after Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, and that Mark Wahlberg Triffids movie (Google reminds me: The Happening), I’m skipping this unless reviews say otherwise.

And, elsewhere on Yahoo…what’s wrong with your FACE? Josh Brolin mounts up for his own third-tier comic book film in the first trailer for Jimmy Hayward’s Jonah Hex, also with Megan Fox, John Malkovich, Will Arnett, Michael Shannon, and Lance Reddick. Oof…seems pretty clear I’ll have to get my drink on before this bad boy.

You Know You’re Gonna Be A Star.

‘This is something you’re going to tell your grandchildren about,’ the spokeswoman said on a recent tour of the lab. “You were here when they were about to get fusion ignition. ‘It’s like standing on the hill watching the Wright brothers’ plane go by.’” CNN’s John Sutter checks in with Livermore Labs’s National Ignition Facility, a few months shy of a long-awaited experiment in nuclear fusion.

If it works, it’ll be big doings, obviously, although we’re still several decades away from a miracle energy source even by the most optimistic predictions. “‘One gallon of seawater would provide the equivalent energy of 300 gallons of gasoline; fuel from 50 cups of water contains the energy equivalent of two tons of coal,’ the Livermore project’s website says.

Rewrite of the Titans.

The most drastic changes in the film come at the expense of the gods. Many watching the movie wonder why Danny Huston would have been hired to play Poseidon when he has almost absolutely nothing to do in the film; the answer is that nearly two thirds of the business with the gods was edited out of the film, and the very tenor of the god scenes was changed in fundamental ways.

As the unnecessary sequel train leaves the station, CHUD’s Devin Faraci details the many major post-production rewrites (re: studio-mandated dumbing down) that afflicted Louis Leterrier’s recent Clash of the Titans. Unclear if it would have salvaged the movie, but the original version does sound a good bit better than what ended up on screen.

“Law & Order: Civil War Unit.”

Redford says he didn’t want to simply re-create Lincoln’s assassination and deals with that mainly as setup. ‘All the President’s Men was very similar, because you had this big historical event taking place, but what people didn’t know was what these two reporters did, digging in under the radar. You didn’t need to show Nixon a lot,’ he says.

USA Today checks in on the set of Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, about the trial of Mary Surratt, with Robin Wright Penn, James McAvoy, Toby Kebbell, and Alexis Bledel. (This is not to be confused with the long-gestating film adaptation of Manhunt or Steven Spielberg’s seemingly cursed attempt at a Lincoln biopic.)

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