The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Everybody sing along with Rod Stewart... "Some guys have all the luck."

This startlingly original thriller from Spain posits luck as a tangible, real commodity. Some people have more, some less. But a few lucky souls have the gift of accumulating luck from others, sometimes through as simple a device as a touch or a hug. First-time writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo refers to them in his excellent commentary as "vampires of luck." He creates an underworld of gifted individuals who gamble the luck they have collected to see which of them is the luckiest. And always, sitting far removed from the petty concerns of the common world, is the supreme master of luck, Samuel "The Jew." Few challengers dare go up against him, for good reason.

I loved this film for its cool, noirish style and for its intelligent and internally consistent examination of a hypothetical world view.

As the movie opens, in a great fluid mini story played underneath the credits, we see one of the gifted individuals, Federico, who works at Samuel's casino. When someone gets a little too lucky at the tables, Federico can take care of it with a casual touch. But unlike William H. Macy's character in The Cooler, Federico keeps their luck for himself. Federico gets a little too cocky, though, and soon finds himself seeking an ally to gather a long delayed vengeance.

Fast cut to seven years later and we are introduced to Tomas, the sole survivor of a commercial jet crash. We also meet Sara, a hard-boiled detective with some obvious drama hinted at in her past who is determined that Tomas should go to jail for his part in a robbery. There is also a lucky bullfighter that the characters meet along the way. The lives of all these people intertwine in what could be a conventional cat-and-mouse detective story if not for the capricious and combative nature of their luck coming into play. By the time we get to the climactic showdown, the audience has no clue as to whose luck will prove to be the strongest.

The story plays out at a measured, unhurried pace. Debbie sitting next to me got impatient at times, but I was always engrossed and caught up in the tale. The director of photography uses shadows and rain to underscore the dark world that the "players" are caught up in. Their addiction to the pursuit of luck dooms those around them, by design or by accident and several characters feel guilty at the luck they undeservedly carry with themselves.

I heartily recommend sitting through the movie a second time to listen to Fresdnadillo's commentary track. He brings additional insight to his thoughts about the story, the characters, and the production. It is not a technical commentary, although he references specific shot setups occasionally. He also stays well away from the puff pieces that have become so common on modern DVD's ("Oh, now Sally was great. I loved working with her. We all had a marvelous time on the set and just listen to the way she delivers this line!").

The commentary is useful because there are a few points that are confusingly presented on screen. They are usually cleared up later, either explicitly or by context, but I had two instances where I simply didn't "get" what the director was trying to show until I heard him explain it. The glitches in storytelling are probably symptomatic of a first-time writer/director and didn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie overall.

Other special features include a demonstration reel put together by the digital effects company to show what they composited in (It is very short and to the point... just before and after shots. A nice eye opener for people who think that what they see on the screen actually happened somewhere!). And there is a good "Making Of" documentary that talks about the setup and the technical side of the work while creating the film.

The dialog is predominantly Spanish (from Spain, not Mexico -- and there is a world of pronunciation difference for you Texans and Californians who think you can follow along!). But the first few scenes throw in French and English as well. The English is not subtitled and the accents are so thick you may have difficulty understanding the dialog. After that, the subtitles are clear and easy to read. The dark composition and use of shadows means that you will want to watch this on a well calibrated set in a dark room. Bright LCD and DLP sets that crush black and gray levels together will lose much of the detail and make it extremely hard to see the action.

Parents note: There is violence, blood, and death portrayed on the screen, but they are not lingered on nor exploited for shock effect. This is not a gore-fest... It's more of a suspense thriller. There is also one brief shot of female breasts in a non-sexual context.


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