Tag Archives: Sergi Lopez

Dirty Pretty Things (2002, Stephen Frears)

At some point during Dirty Pretty Things, maybe the half-way point, I didn’t check, I realized the film’s non-traditional approach was holding it back. It’s ironic (or maybe not, I’m sure I’m using the word wrong) since the third act is the most predictable thing I’ve seen in recent memory. I sat and waited for my predictions to come true and all of them did… even the last few moments, which were straight from a Hollywood playbook. Being straight from that playbook isn’t even a bad thing, necessarily–yes, I realize I just said not playing from it was holding Pretty Things back–but changing… modes of transport (I was going to go metaphor, but got too self-conscious) handicaps the thing. What starts as a good, solid different film becomes everything it wasn’t at the beginning. It preaches, which is one of the great things the first two acts do not do.

I thought, when the film got going, it was going to be an interesting, hotel-set mystery. It isn’t. It’s half traditional thriller, half character study. The character study eventually loses. Very little happens in the first twenty or thirty minutes and, once it does, a lot of the film’s charm disappears. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance is astounding. The poster I remember is the one with Audrey Tautou’s name above the title and the definite suggestion of a thriller. Obviously, American (especially Miramax) marketing of foreign product tends to be bullshit, but in this case, it’s an incredible slight against the film. But I’m glad, since I went into it knowing Ejiofor was good in other stuff and getting to see him–unexpectedly–in the lead. Tautou’s supporting, nothing more. She’s in it more than most of the other characters, since she’s the McGuffin in many ways. Any time something happens, it’s somehow because of Tautou (and occasionally because of Ejiofor’s concern for her). Sophie Okonedo is in it a lot less, but she has a lot more of an impact, just because of how her character shows up in the film. She tends to be in scenes where Ejiofor is defined through his actions, rather than his reactions to Tautou. Not to say Tautou’s performance isn’t good. It’s fine. It just doesn’t resonate very well… she doesn’t embody her character enough to make the character’s sometimes unlikely story fly.

As the villain, Sergi Lopez is excellent.

Frears does a good job throughout, maintaining an off-putting atmosphere to the film. He only really slips a couple times. Once with the Jaws dolly zoom and again in the film’s last few shots, when he inexplicably loses the distinctive color palette. At that point, however, the film had turned into the inspirational tale of an illegal immigrant instead of a story about a human being.

A few more words about Ejiofor. In many ways, since he is in most scenes, Dirty Pretty Things is a fantastic showcase for his ability. He gets to display a wide range–even though the script does him the disservice of trying to make him ominous, which is an absolutely ludicrous device (maybe the worst in the film), and even then he works through it. The only downside is how infuriating it is when the script makes him have to do (or say, especially say) something stupid.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Stephen Frears; written by Steven Knight; director of photography, Chris Menges; edited by Mick Audsley; music by Nathan Larson; production designer, Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski; produced by Tracey Seaward and Robert Jones; released by Miramax Films and BBC Films.

Starring Chiwetel Ejiofor (Okwe), Audrey Tautou (Senay), Sergi Lopez (Sneaky), Sophie Okonedo (Juliette) and Benedict Wong (Guo Yi).


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Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, Guillermo del Toro)

Pan’s Labyrinth is a pretty film. Gorgeous cinematography, great locations, intricate make-up (bad CG, but it’s only really noticeable once). Guillermo del Toro does a decent job directing the film but has these really annoying transitions–the back of someone’s head frequently becomes a tree in the forest in unending pans. His script is competent and, well, heartless. I was trying to work up some suspense, but since del Toro ruins Pan’s Labyrinth‘s suspense in the opening shot, maybe it’s appropriate. Pan’s Labyrinth could have been a really good war movie, but instead del Toro mucks around in fantasy. Bad fantasy.

I was hoping Pan’s Labyrinth would either use the fantasy elements as a metaphor (it does not) or would be a descendent of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, it’s neither. Instead, like I said before, it’s heartless. Only one of the characters is at all human and she’s just human by default. The rest are unbelievable, except maybe the bad guy (until the end, anyway). The lead character, the precocious girl, goes from being wise beyond her years to being inconceivably stupid. Del Toro never spends any time figuring the character out in any real sense, so there’s not even a surprise (by the time she got stupid, I’d already given up). There’s also absolutely no suspense in the film, thanks a) to del Toro giving everything away at the beginning and b) just some lame plotting.

The performances are fine, but not worth enumerating. Something does need to be said for the graphic violence, however. Instead of attaching any real emotion to Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro makes it frequently bloody to get the audience interested (Paul Verhoeven talked about this method in regards to Robocop–if you haven’t gotten the audience to care with actual character development, blood and guts can do it).

Pan’s Labyrinth is so artificial it’s hard to be particularly disappointed. While it’s boring and empty, the war aspect is so full of potential, you can just sit and imagine the fantasy thing being gone and the movie being good. Maybe it’s because del Toro doesn’t have any M. Night Shyamalan moments… well, until the end, but who cares by then? It’s almost over.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro; director of photography, Guillermo Navarro; edited by Bernat Vilaplana; music by Javier Navarrete; production designer, Eugenio Caballero; produced by Bertha Navarro, Alfonso Cuarón, Frida Torresblanco and Álvaro Augustin; released by Picturehouse.

Starring Sergi López (Vidal), Maribel Verdú (Mercedes), Ivana Baquero (Ofelia), Ariadna Gil (Carmen), Alex Angulo (Doctor) and Doug Jones (Pale Man).


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