Fast Times, Old Friend

68E8E7AA-8DD1-4983-B42A-8444098ED72B.pngMay 1, 2018

Dear friend,

I haven’t seen you in a while. It has been quite a few laps around the sun, actually. It’s true I avoid your pictures and videos, but how couldn’t I? You brought to my life the most incredible joy, and each reminder of you is also a reminder of how I haven’t experienced that ever since. I remember you taking me on car rides powered by that Honda engine, and how I felt I was the only person in the world with you, even when there were so many watching. I remember you speeding through the streets and even when you drove too fast on rainy days, I felt safe. In fact, you taught me that the rain could also be beautiful. In those drives in the streets we knew so well, I felt the presence of God. Like an angel, you announced His presence in my life.
Even though I was born with this walk, so slow compared to all you could do, it never bothered you. You never once complained. You always took me with you. If my legs were unable, you showed me that we could still fly together. And my once bleak weekend mornings became brighter with your presence.
Sometimes, after a weekend without you, I still drive to work crying. But I have to recompose myself quickly because people wouldn’t understand why I am crying after so long years since that day. In fact, many people never understood.
I hope you’re well. And I’m sorry for doubting everything when you said “Enough!” and took matters into your own hands. Even though you never said a word against me, I know you were disappointed. At the moment I should have stood for you, I stayed silent and fell back.
But part of me says that you left my life because you had already taught me how to fly and how to smile, and that now you have to teach others too, from somewhere I don’t know.

Love,
Fernando

 

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Telescope

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“It was a gift,” she said, while focusing the lens on the moon.

The stars had fascinated this girl in the past. Only a few years separated present and past, but her young eyes multiplied these years by great distances, making them seem far like the stars in the sky.

“And I liked those things. Those things every girl liked one day.”

The telescope I found lying against a wall. I said we should mount it outside. As the pieces united, I finally saw the beauty of that instrument. Magic must be that fragile piece to show us places well beyond our eyes.

I realized that some supernal inspiration had made me ask for the telescope on that night. The moon reigned on a cloudless sky. My simple request made the girl see miles and miles above.

Is it cheese? I asked her and she smiled at me and at the moon. She placed her telescope in a space without any trees. Then she adjusted the angle. Then she saw the moon.

“I believe it was all real… I mean, men landing up there. But I really don’t care. I only know this: the moon is beautiful,” she said.

She was also beautiful. Her almost red hair was free and highlighted her soft face lines. She stood there looking for something far away. I stood there admiring the two beauties somehow sharing the same space. I admired both: the girl and the moon. She then asked me to look through the lens, but my eyes failed to focus. Had I stayed there the entire night, looking at her smile would have been the same as looking at all the stars. She could find the light amidst the darkness falling through the trees and evolving us. She could fly high, going places she had never imagined. She could fly as many others did, overcoming darkness and following light. She could focus even when everything around looked the same and also distant.

“It’s late,” she noticed.

I looked at my watch. It was not late. I saw an invisible force pulling her down to reality, making her flights come to an end. This force she could not see. This force she could not overpower in just days or weeks. Time, however, favored her. While she described the moon to me, I described the dust that had formed all stars. The stars shining seemed the elect born to shine, and one could easily forget that without many chemical reactions and physical pressures they would fail to live. I told her about the pressures that made a star. I saw a small dust in her eye, shining at me for a brief moment.

“And this is how it happens,” I concluded, “once it begins, once the dust comes together… no matter how long it may take. They all began like this.”

It could have been only a small dust. Something made me believe it was a star forming in a universe full of dark and unexplored places. Something made me believe that girl could bring light to that sky.

And all this the stars whispered to me before I slept that night.

 

Coffee and Cake – 2009 #ThrowbackThursday

The sun slowly fades behind the trees in the backyard, and the smell of coffee runs through the kitchen bringing memories with it. The blue and white towel contrasts with the green trees on the window, calling my mind to revisit the stories that shaped who I am today. That was the same ocean blue. For a moment, I navigated in oceans of emotions, as deep as the one I crossed in search of my loved one. My trip through all those memories would someday be in a book. For now, however, they were introduced only by the simple smell of coffee.
Maybe the light rain was just a complement to those afternoons of business. While the raindrops accumulated on the windows, an old, rusty coffee machine was set down at the center of the table beside a warm cake. The woman cut a piece of the cake and I saw it melting below the weak light of the kitchen.
“This knife does not cut anymore,” she noted. “It is not working as it used to.”
It was also true for our society, getting lost in all the modern stuff, and forgetting the small things that used to bring happiness to life. Our lives. And I still got lost in the rain drops of that coming storm.
The strong coffee provokes different emotions. It makes me visit again the teenage years we lived once. These years seemed close and closer to me at that moment. Suddenly, I could almost touch them. They were as close as the sugar pot at the table.
“It is good, thanks,” I said while the women put the coffee in my cup.
It was not as sweet as I thought and, as I drank it, I found it a bit sour. As I sipped the coffee, the man at the table told me about his life, with all its stories and scenes that seemed too perfect, either happy or sad ones, to be real. I wished I had something to write with. Instead, I had to trust my memory, built on strong roots, with stories and facts, passions and persons, just like those he narrated for me. These stories were not his anymore. Now they went along the river of my imagination, going back and forth without direction until these same characters and plots met a pen and a paper.
“This is the price I came to. About the same as last time. Can you pass me that pen beside the phone?”
“It has no tint,” he looked in his pocket, “Take this one.”
There my wishes were fulfilled. A pen. A sheet of paper. Numbers do not please me as much, even if I depended on them. For a moment, selling the sugar was an excuse that allowed me to listen to other stories.
“It is expensive today, my friend. Can we look at this again?”
“I will see what I can do.”
He kept talking. After starting to calculate the prices again, I was already asking for a calculator.
“More coffee?”
“Yes, please.” I did not need sugar, for those stories were sweet enough.
“Maybe a piece of cake.”
I became a friend. I became someone who knew relatives and their stories. I lived stories of love like they were mine. They became free to take any direction. They were already crossing the valleys and rivers of ideas that compose the imagination of a writer. My mission was that of transforming those waters into a rain to fall on a piece of paper. I was a writer. I took the boat of emotions in a rainstorm, but also heard a baby breathing softly in the arms of its mother. I took the direction of happiness, but also saw the challenges in my way. In my hands, I found the tools to transform reality into fantasy, and fantasy into reality.
“This is my final price,” I said after some minutes.
“It is still salty,” he answered, “let me propose a last…”
Quickly, my writer’s instinct acted. It rained and the businesses that day did not favor me. It would be a long trip home. I put my bag on the table.
“May I have this pen?”
“Yes, I think…”
“I think I can make it for you today,” I said before the man could even think.
It was not a good sale, but I got the pen. I did not need another pen at home. I had many, and almost all of them died off while waiting someone to need them to write a phone number. I needed it, however. I needed to transform my inspiration into words.
I got into the car with the pen and the paper. I did not need to calculate the prices again, and if I did I would be ashamed of my abilities with numbers. I simply turned over the paper. In that blank space, daily stories would be full of prose and poetry. Mundane persons would be protagonists. These persons, however, were not the ones to decide their fates anymore. It was my mind the one responsible for transforming all that I heard that afternoon into poetry. I had in my hands the might to rewrite fate. This is an art schools cannot teach and other people cannot fully understand. It transforms, however, a man into a writer.

Jogos de Carnaval

A ligação foi breve. Na manhã seguinte, em pleno sábado de carnaval, Kate me esperava encostada no pequeno muro amarelo do estacionamento. Ao entrar no carro, me beijou como em tantas outras manhãs de sábado. Quis saber como havia sido a minha semana, estava cansada daquela mulher chata do emprego, lembrou que hoje não teríamos compromisso e, com o olhar fixo nas nuvens carregadas, deu graças à Deus por ser sábado.
Fingimos que certas palavras nunca foram ditas. Fizemos de conta que outras pessoas não haviam cruzado nosso caminho e, principalmente, o tempo havia nos perdoado.
Coloquei o carro em marcha rumo à velha avenida, vestidos com as fantasias do que éramos dois anos atrás.

A Morning – Microfiction

João saw her on a cloudy Monday, waiting in the line of a coffee shop, long years after that evening when everything ended. As he got closer, he noticed Mariana was wearing a necklace with a golden heart attached to it. So afraid was he to find out who lived in the girl’s heart that he decided not to call her name. It was better to live the rest of his life with the unanswered question of an impossible love. Being sure would hurt too much. She took the cup of cold latte – the drink they often shared – and rushed out, late for work. After settling down in his office that morning, João saw her name on the cup on his desk. It was the only sign left from the girl that one day brought light to his whole world.

 


 

João a viu na cafeteria em uma segunda-feira nublada, muitos anos depois daquela noite em que se separaram. Ao se aproximar, percebeu que Mariana carregava um pingente em formato de coração no pescoço. João teve tanto medo de saber quem habitava o coração daquela menina que decidiu não chamar seu nome. Era melhor viver o resto da vida com a dúvida de um amor impossível, já que ter a certeza machucaria demais. Ela pegou o copo de latte gelado – a bebida que tantas vezes dividiram – e saiu da cafeteria apressada para o trabalho. Ao chegar em seu escritório, João viu o nome de Mariana no copo trocado. Era a única marca que lhe restara da menina que um dia iluminou seu mundo.

3 proofs of love in film history (a totally incomplete list!)

Unforgettable Demonstrations of Love in Film

Going to the theatre to watch a love story has long been a favorite date evening for many couples over the decades. In these films, heroic love acts are not uncommon, and inspire us as we live our own romances. Here are three of such films and their unforgettable proofs of love.

1)    Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Anybody else other than a Italian could have turned “Cinema Paradiso” into a cliché. Thankfully for us movie lovers, cliché isn’t a problem here. In the movie, Salvattore, nicknamed Totó,  grows up fatherless in the small town of Giancaldo, Italy. He’s fascinated with movies and often sneaks into the local theatre to watch every kind of film, even the ones the local priest tries to censor by cutting away any kissing or love scenes from them. A smart child, Totó is able to convince Alfredo, the projectionist, to let him work in the projection booth, despite the fire hazard of film stocks. Alfredo becomes a friend and father to Totó: the two are inseparable. Totó grows to love Alfredo, movies and, of course, the Cinema Paradiso theatre.

There are two memorable proofs of love in the film. The first, a subplot in the film, happens when Totó, by now a teenager, falls in love with Elena, a new girl in town. Alfredo sees that Totó needs some advice, and tells him a story of a soldier who waited outside the window of a princess, who had promised to marry him if he could wait there for 100 days and 100 nights without ever moving. On the 99th night, the soldier, tired and weather beaten, gets up and leaves. What does this mean? Alfredo claims he doesn’t know. Totó, however, tries to repeat the fairy tale under the window of his beloved Helena.

The second, and greatest, proof of love is revealed on the very last scene, when all the lost kisses suddenly become magic once more in one of the most beautiful endings in film history.

 

2)    Somewhere in Time (1980)

Back to the past stories form almost a complete genre in film history. Few movies, however, have touched on the subject with as much poetry as “Somewhere in Time”. Richard Collier is a playwright who lived a life in the beginning of the 20th century, but has no memory of it. While on a weekend trip to clear his mind from both work and a recent breakup, he sees an old portrait of a young woman in the saloon of a hotel. He falls in love with a picture of someone who is already long dead.

His obsession leads him to recall a night many years before when an elderly woman walked up to him and told him to “come back” to her. Richard begins doing research about the woman in the picture, and finds she once was a talented actress. He consults an old college professor of his, who once was able, he claims, to travel back in time for a few minutes. The professor remembers almost dying from the mental strain caused by time travel.

Ignoring all risks, Richard follows the steps outlined by the old man. He goes back in time, looking to live the greatest love of his life, one he never knew about. 

 

 

3)    Before Sunset (2004)

 

Young travelers Jesse and Celine meet on a train and spend a summer night together in Vienna in Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” (1995).  From complete strangers, they become lovers a few hours later, and experience in one magical night a relationship that many people can’t find in a lifetime. By morning, both of them have to return to normal life: he to Texas, she back to Paris. “If somebody gave me the choice right now of to never see you again or to marry you, I’d marry you,” Jesse says. 

The two promise to meet once again in Vienna six months later. No phone numbers and no letters: these things, they fear, would kill the intensity of the love they found that night. 

We meet our characters again in 2004. Jesse is giving a press conference at a Parisian book shop, where he’s presenting his first book, “This Time”, already a bestseller. The book is inspired by the events of that summer night that changed his life.

When Celine shows up at the book shop, it’s only a short time before we find out they never met after six months. While Jesse’s book is a proof of love, one he hoped would connect them again, so is Linklater’s “Before” trilogy. Linklater himself spent a night with a stranger, Amy Lehrhaupt, while passing by Philadelphia on a trip, and both fell in love. “I’m gonna make a movie about this,” he told her that night. 

Many years after the release of “Before Sunrise”, Linklater received a letter from a friend of Amy, where he learned that she had passed away in an accident, just before production of the movie started. Linklater’s love, however, is now eternalized not only in his heart, but also in every scene of one of the greatest love stories of the last 20 years.

 

 

 

 

Oscar Roundup – 2016

A look back at the 2016 Best Picture nominees
The 2015/2016 awards season will come to an end on Sunday, Feb. 26, when the Oscars are to be presented at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood. In preparation for the big day, let’s look back at the stories that came to life in our theatre screens in 2016 and earned a Best Picture nomination.

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Pictures and arrangement found at oscars.go.com.

The Big Short
Featuring a star rich cast (Brad Pitt, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale), this movie tackles the 2007 housing market crash. It is the story of a few men who were able to predict the crash and began “betting” against the big banks ability to handle all the loans and financings accumulated on top of each other.

“The Big Short” is a good movie. It manages to get a dry and boring topic for most of us to work dramatically. This happens because each character is very well developed and different in specific ways, and all of them are played by excellent actors. As a highlight, Christian Bale delivers one of his best roles. The movie also escapes conventions and throws in comic and absurd scenes, such as Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, to explain complicated concepts in unconventional ways.

Deserves to win? No. At the end of the day, “The Big Short” can’t escape the scenes with dry explanations and some situations aren’t portrayed in ways that seem universal. Informative, but not able to capture the imagination as some of the other contenders did this year.

Bridge of Spies
Steven Spielberg’s film about a lawyer who is called to defend a spy the whole country is against and then trade him for an American pilot captured by the Soviet Union is an excellent work.

The movie goes against many Spielberg trademarks such as the emotionally overwhelming soundtrack, the grand battles and the heavy loaded special effects scenes. While die-hard Spielberg’s fans may be disappointed, this is the movie to see if you want to experience a different style of the famous American director.

Deserves to win? Maybe. It features beautiful photography and great acting by Tom Hanks. However, I feel there were missed opportunities in better exploring the friendship between the two main characters. Speaking of characters, they are a bit constrained by what is considered good and evil, and I missed a greater grey area in between.

The Martian
Ridley Scott knows sci-fi and drama. He shows it again with his latest film, “The Martian”, about an astronaut who is left for dead in Mars and must survive alone with insufficient supplies.

Visually stunning and interesting dramatically, there is never a dull moment in the film. Although Scott doesn’t match his own “Blade Runner” in terms of originality, “The Martian” still manages to make us hold our breath for two hours.

Deserves to win? Yes. Despite the premise not being original, it’s still wonderfully executed. Matt Damon’s performance is stupendous and holds us all film long. When a director can hold dramatic tension for as long as Scott does here and still give us fascinating photography, he has done something right.

Mad Max: Fury Road
Another classic director brought action to our screens this year. George Miller revived his Mad Max franchise with Fury Road, which tells the story of a man who recently lost his family in the post-apocalyptic chaos and a woman who is running away from a tyrannical ruler along with his slave wives.

“Fury Road” is nothing short of exhilarating. Big budget action movies are often associated with less than stellar screenplays that are flat and predictable. Miller comes along to show that the action genre can bring as good stories and characters as any drama.

Deserves to win? Yes. “Fury Road” is one of those films that takes your breath away. The film is a long and thrilling chase for hope, freedom and redemption in a world deprived of its most basic human needs and rules. This is an action film that lets the action scenes move the plot forward, instead of cheap dialogue. Almost without words, “Fury Road” is a strong candidate for best movie of 2015, even if it doesn’t bring awards home.

The Revenant
The story of a fur hunter who is left for dead in the woods may give Leonardo DiCaprio his first and well deserved OSCAR.
Fueled by revenge, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) goes through everything nature throws at him. Marked by a great performance by DiCaprio, “The Revenant” is also a special film in technical terms since it was shot using only natural light. The result is spectacular and worth the admission price.

Deserves to win? Maybe. “The Revenant” is one of the most beautifully shot films of the last few years. One could go watch this film just for the cinematography. The story, however, falters in the second act, which is unnecessarily long, and diminishes the power of the film.

Room
While “The Revenant” explores the wide open, “Room” focuses on a 10-by-10 foot shed where a young woman is trapped by a man who explores her sexually. She bears his son, a child who does not see the real world outside of the shed for the first five years of his life.

The film doesn’t over dramatize the situation, which is already tragic by nature, and this is one of the greatest qualities of this work. There is plenty of space for the audience to truly identify with the two main characters, instead of just pitying them or being overloaded by a dramatic soundtrack other directors could’ve used here.

Deserves to win? No. Even though it is well-directed and written, “Room” doesn’t feel fresh enough to deserve the Best Picture award. It is an interesting film though, mainly due to its second half, where the story takes a new direction.

Brooklyn
The story of an Irish immigrant who comes to America and finds love is told here, the movie that feels the most classic of this group.
“Brookyln” is a film that brings nostalgia to the screen at every frame. The screenplay evokes the romances of the classical Hollywood Studio System from the 1930s to the 1960s. The art direction transports you to 1950s Brookyln. Finally, it’s hard not to fall in love with Ellis and Tony (Saiorse Ronan and Emory Cohen).

Deserves to win? Maybe. Other than a small moment in the film where Ellis’s feelings seem oddly inconsistent, the screenplay is solid and supported by fantastic actors. “Brookyln” is classic storytelling at its best and a small jewel among this year’s nominees. Had the screenplay developed better the second act, this would’ve been a stronger candidate for Best Picture.

Spotlight
Four journalists of a special section from the Boston Globe uncover a major scandal about dozens of Catholic priests who molested children, but remained free of any legal consequences or Church punishment.
“Spotlight” may have the most complex story and subject of the nominees this year. The story is engaging throughout the film as we in the audience get to play a game of investigative journalism. The casting is fantastic, and all main characters gain a lot from the stellar acting of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James.

Deserves to win? Yes. “Spotlight” is an engaging film from beginning to end, and succeeds in making us all want to practice the same journalism as this great team from the Boston Globe did. The screenplay is always leaving subtle hints throughout, and collecting them together with the characters feels very rewarding.

Final Thoughts:
Out of the eight Best Picture nominees, “Mad Max” and “The Martian” were the ones that left in me a true satisfaction after leaving the theatre. The two stretched tension to a maximum, released it and then brought the final credits soon after. There seemed to be no unnecessary scenes or fat in them. Their stories were simple, maybe even too simple compared to “Spotlight” for instance, but both were extremely well told, mainly in “Mad Max”. I was more captivated by the experiences these two offered than by most of the other nominees. And as I usually say here, being simple is often the hardest thing to do.

Fernando’s OSCAR vote for Best Picture goes to: “Mad Max: Fury Road”.

Concussion Review

Some films come along and you’re glad to see them to satisfy curiosity about a topic, but you wouldn’t buy a DVD or look them up again on Netflix. “Concussion” made me feel I was watching that kind of film. Despite the great acting by Will Smith, the movie just doesn’t seem to offer enough for a second viewing.screen-shot-2016-01-10-at-1-37-53-pm-203x300

“Concussion” is a good film, but it eventually suffers in the long run. Overall, one gets the feeling that this story could have been better told with a documentary, rather than a fiction product. This is the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) who called the country’s attention to serious head injuries football players suffer over their careers, leaving drastic consequences much after their last touchdowns. Dr. Omalu, however, just isn’t a character that is interesting enough to hold audiences for two hours.

There is a clear split in the structure of the film. In the first half, we see what led to Dr. Omalu’s research and his conclusions. In the second half, it is the fight of Dr. Omalu versus the NFL. This kind of double structure adds some variety to the film. Director and writer Peter Landesman does a great job in avoiding the long tribunal sequences often associated with this kind of movie. Seeing Dr. Omalu work, go home, fall in love, buy a home are all very welcome scenes, as they help build his character and save the audience from unnecessary tribunal details.

Character building starts from minute one, when Dr. Omalu lists his impressive resume before a court. Will Smith delivers a master class, and it’s difficult to imagine the film without him. He has an incredible ability to communicate as several immigrants do, trying to make facial expressions and tone of voice to make up for everyday words that are not always on the tip of the tongue. It’s easy to see the genius and the brilliant mind of this doctor who speaks to the dead and, as he points out, “for the dead.” This dichotomy is impressive in Smith’s work and, if he eventually wins a Golden Globe or an Oscar for this role, it would be well deserved.

In terms of cinematography, Landesman gives us a film that falls heavily towards the blue and grey. The color tone matches the cold: the cold weather of Pittsburgh, the cold dead bodies Dr. Omalu examines and the cold hearts of a company that neglected for long the risks associated with its sport. The color scheme fits the movie perfectly and also helps to bring out the introspective moments Dr. Omalu goes through.

The movie has a big pitfall in terms of story versus screen time. There are moments in the film that just seem to drag for a little too long with nothing new being presented. Character development is great at the beginning, but the true starting point – Dr. Omalu’s discovery – comes unreasonably late in the first act. The problem gets bigger by the end, when the final solution seems to take ages to come, such as the last two minutes of a football game.

“Concussion” is a tough film to sell. It tackles a sport that is very dear to our country and exposes its flaws. Outside the U.S., football clearly isn’t the sport of choice. Box office figures show that this wasn’t a winning combination. Judging only by its own merits, “Concussion” is a good film with a great performance by Will Smith. The directing is above average and does nothing that takes away from the film, except for the pace. However, it’s hard to say I would see it again. The story seems to belong in the documentary world, not the fictional one. It’s even harder to recommend unless you have a deep rooted passion for Smith or the topic of sport medicine and politics. This one falls short of a touchdown in many ways.

Bridge of Spies: good film, but not close to Spielberg’s best

Verdict: Even though it isn’t among Spielberg’s most memorable, “Bridge of Spies” is still a good film, well directed and acted, especially if you enjoy the history of the Cold War. 
  
The film “Bridge of Spies” is not one of Steven Spielberg’s epic triumphs. In this Cold War drama, things are more subtle and quiet. Characters don’t go into the field of battle, but instead deal with their own mission in a world divided by two ideologies. It is an interesting approach by one iconic filmmaker, known for his expansive scenes and their dramatic scores, because it escapes normality in his body of work.
This is the true story of James Donovan (Tom Hanks), an American insurance agent with a background in criminal justice. The CIA recruits him to defend Rudolf (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy captured in Brooklyn. The United States want to condemn Rudolf to execution, but our government decides to give him a “fair trial” in order to show the world that the right justice applies to everyone, even enemies. However, James decides to appeal the case, going against his boss, his family and the whole country.
The opening of the film captures this world of spying well and draws us in without too many words. Rudolf is first seen painting. When leaving his apartment, someone follows him. The camera here is shaky as we ride the bus and train of New York, just as if we, the audience, were playing the game of spying. We see Rudolf from the point of view of those following him, even though these characters are not even on screen yet. These choices are effective as they bring the thrill of spying right away.
The rest of the film concentrates on James getting to know Rudolf, and his attempts to defend him. The trial scenes are short and come quickly. Spielberg saves us from the classic structure of waiting for the very last trial, which is a relief. He focuses instead on how these two men form a bond, and how James plays a role in negotiating the exchange of Rudolf for two Americans held prisoners by East Germany and the Soviet Union.
Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance work well together. One of the drawbacks of the film is that it does not explore more of their growing friendship. There are great scenes, though, such as when Rudolf tells James how he reminds him of a childhood figure his father used to say: “pay close attention to this man.” Rudolf says this man never gave in, even under pressure. He always bounced back and stood up again. It is a beautiful metaphor that’s brought back as the film ends: one of the most memorable details in the movie. 
The images of “Bridge of Spies” have a cold, blue tone that’s extremely appropriate to the film. It’s a world filled with troubles. A world with few and sad colors. This choice is accompanied by a superb camera work, exemplified by when Spielberg takes us to East Berlin: the wide shots show us a city in total chaos, while the few close ups on James show us his fear and anxiety. 
Speaking of which, dialogue is mostly to the point. It is great to see the irony of the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, two of the three screenwriters, sneak in here at some moments. Sadly, these moments are rare, as Spielberg’s style is commercial, while Joel and Ethan are at their best with the cult mood of their own films. 
“Bridge of Spies” does many things right, but it fails at being memorable. It is a film where good and bad are already so well defined that there’s little room to play in that grey area between both of them in order to raise tension and suspense about the characters. It is a fine movie, but not one that necessarily needs to be in your Spielberg collection.

The Martian – Review

Verdict: “The Martian” is an exhilarating adventure that will keep audiences glued to their seats even without seatbelts.

“The Martian” has one extreme factor that could have made it go extremely wrong: it’s the story of one man alone on Mars. However, “The Martian” is one of the best cinematic adventures of 2015, leaving its most recent competitors “Gravity” and “Interstellar” in a cloud of red dust.

While on a NASA mission in Mars, astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by a large metal piece blown kKS7neKa from a nearby communication tower during an unexpected and heavy storm. His fellow astronauts presume he is dead from the impact and the possible depressurization of his suit. Watney, however, survives and now must use all his knowledge to extend his food supply and remain alive.

Despite starting out as a one-man-show, the movie is incredibly dynamic. As Watney works to fix a problem, another issue is already in the horizon. As Watney celebrates being able to grow food inside the NASA station, he must find a way to stretch the battery of his solar vehicle to reach the spot where the next Mars mission will land in four years.

There isn’t a moment when Watney seems comfortable. This screenplay choice of piling of events causes us to feel the day by day struggle to survive. “The Martian” never lets us have comfort through the usual Hollywood-midpoint-happy-montage. It’s quite the opposite.

Inevitably, this situation would get boring or repetitive. Screenwriter Drew Goddard counteracts this by reestablishing contact between Earth and Mars. By showing NASA’s side, who wants to save both Watney and its reputation, Goddard avoids long sequences of Damon on-screen speaking with himself.
Damon delivers that screenplay in a superb performance, worthy of an OSCAR nomination. Lonely scenes are extremely difficult to shoot, since it requires the actor to imagine an entire situation by himself. Damon does it successfully. When planted crops die in a storm that blows part of the station open, death is imminent and we see it all in Watney’s face.

Photography doesn’t lag behind either. The vast, red expanse of Mars looks as beautiful as it is menacing and unforgiving. Although it isn’t as impressive as “Gravity,” the photography does much better at moving the story forward, while the 2014 film tended to lag in scenes that didn’t push the plot.

The soundtrack here is also a great surprise. Bowie’s, “There’s a starman waiting in the sky,” plays as we see the infinite universe beyond us. The rock of Bowie fits into these scenes, despite sounding nothing like we expect from space films. Instead of the dark beats of scifi,

Bowie’s lyrics are mellow and cheerful. This contrast creates a beautiful moment as Watney seeks to be both saved but also hailed as a hero. It makes these scenes fresh, rather than just repetitions of old tropes.

In 1982, director Ridley Scott delivered a sci fi masterpiece: “Blade Runner.” This new film isn’t quite at the same level of his immortal classic, but it still is a magnificent piece of cinema. “The Martian” is one of those movies to be experienced in the theatre, and we will tell what that experience was like to our future generations.

First printed on The Signal Newspaper
Oct. 13, 2015