Ghost Graduation (Promoción Fantasma): School’s Out Forever (Review)

Poster or Ghost Graduation 2012

Having recently discovered the comedic directing abilities of Javier Ruiz Caldera via the very entertaining Spy Timeit was brilliant to find another film by this  director on Netflix; Ghost Graduation. This  fantasy/comedy offering (original title Promoción Fantasma) from Spain has a ghost busting teacher who helps some dead students get out of school forever. 

Modesto (Raúl Arévalo) learns at an early age that he can see and interact with dead people. Unlike the kid in The Sixth Sense, the departed that Modesto interacts with look like everyday people. These are normal looking and look nothing like the grim ghosts  in M Night Shyamalan’s film. 

The young man grows up to be a teacher who is fired from every school he finds employment with. His social skills are mainly to blame as he isolates himself. Modesto attends therapy sessions and is told there are no ghosts and that he is gay.

The teacher hires on at Monforte, a school plagued by inexplicable events The school has an opening after s a literature teacher is flung out an upper story window. The events are caused by a group of dead former students who have failed to move on.

The quintet of deceased “Breakfast Club” members is comprised of stereotypes that work very well for the comedy.  The school bad boy – Dani (Àlex Maruny), the Jock – Jorge (Jaime Olías),  the party animal – Pink Floyd (Javier Bódalo), the loose girl – Marivi – (Andrea Duro) and the  good girl – Angela (Anna Castillo).

The comedy begins in earnest when Modesto is hired as the new literature teacher. The rest of the film deals with his burgeoning romance with Tina, played by Alexandra Jiménez who worked with director Caldera in Spy Time. The school’s headmistress has a thorn in her side with school council president Ortegui (Carlos Areces) who has a surprising connection to one of the ghostly students. 

Ghost Graduation does what any really good comedy should do. It makes one laugh and cry. The film also shows that students are pretty much the same all over the world.  The five ghosts of the school died  during a 1990s Christmas party. The deceased were  five students who were in detention in the library and they all perished in a fire. The kids are stuck at the school until they can move on.

The comedy is contagious, from the ghostly students freaking out that the new teacher can see and hear them to  Modesto’s reactions to his surroundings, it is all good fun.  In terms of violence there is very little; a teacher thrown out a window twice is all there is. There is some partial nudity but no sex and no foul language in the subtitles.

The director show the same skillful handling of this comedic feature film that he demonstrated in Spy Time.  Ghost Graduation is fast paced and at 88 minutes speeds by with all the momentum of a bullet train.

The film looks good, in terms of CG, except for  the “vomiting” sequences where Pink Floyd spews copious amounts of pink liquid. The character died drunk and stayed drunk.

Arévalo is spot on as the social inept Modesto whose confidence grows as the film progresses. Jiménez plays the beleaguered school head very well and apart from being stunning, has comedy chops to spare. The actors playing the students were brilliant and for those who may have only discovered  Anna Castillo;  keep an eye on this one. 

Caldera has adroitly handled two comedy offering out of a possible three. The last film, Three Many Weddings is the 2013 offering from a trio of films that began with Ghost Graduation. The Spanish movie is subtitled but this takes nothing from the enjoyment of this comedic haunted school tale.

This was another 5 star film from a director who won this reviewer over on Spy Time and had now solidified a reputation of being able to effortlessly do comedy.  Streaming on Netflix watch this one. Now.

Spy Time Aka Anacleto: Agente Secreto (2015): Action Comedy Fun (Review)

Anacleto and son in Spy Time

Based on a comic book that parodies the James Bond world of spies and super secret agents, Spy Time (Anacleto: Agente Secreto) is a fun action comedy that is particularly apt for this day and age. Anacleto is the silver-haired suave secret agent who has to deal with a declining budget and a list of enemies that hate him.

One, Vázquez, stages an escape as he is being transported from one prison to another (“A smaller, dirtier, prison,” says Anacleto with more than a little satisfaction.).  As he departs the escort van the secret agent’s nemesis reveals he plans to kill Anacleto and his son Adolfo (Quim Gutiérrez).

Adolfo is a Wilber milquetoast character. A security guard at an electrical shop who is afraid to approach the criminals stealing merchandise from the shop floor.  Adolfo’s girlfriend Katia (Alexandra Jiménez) is breaking up with him because he is boring and does not even have a driving license. 

The two meet up at a nightclub and after she fights with her brother, Martin (Berto Romero), who is Adolfo’s best friend,  Katia and Adolfo have break-up sex at their apartment. After learning that she still intends to leave him, Adolfo goes to sleep on the couch.

Vázquez sends his first assassin to kill Anacleto’s son and a very surprised Adolfo learns that  he can defend himself and kills the Chinaman.  The next morning he goes to tell Katia and finds the apartment is in pristine  condition and that  the dead body is gone.

Adolfo meets his father Anacleto (Imanol Arias) and the two begin to reforge broken bonds and survive the many attempts on their lives. 

Directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera (who specializes in comedy films) and written by a trio of  scribes who based the screenplay on the comic by Manuel Vázquez Gallego Spy Time is a delightful romp that has little gore but some surprisingly brutal violence. 

(The writers who crafted the screenplay are: Pablo AlénBreixo Corral and Fernando Navarro.)

In terms of violence, one character has an long allen wrench shoved into their eye. It is a tad shocking but the act does not detract from the humor. Once again because there is a lack of gore. There are no buckets of claret here;  just enough to show that violence has occurred.

There are many comical moments. Anacleto giving Katia’s entire family truth serum. When Adolfo’s soon-to-be ex girlfriend complains that Anacleto’s son did not get the serum the secret agent protests. “What do you think I am? I’m not going to drug my own son!”

A great bit on assembling IKEA-type furniture and a secret meeting in a Bingo hall (“22, two little ducks”) and some splendid comic stunts make this a very entertaining film to watch. From the ubiquitous  tuxedo and cigarette to the Walther PPK semiautomatic pistol,  the role of Anacleto screams James Bond. But on a modern day EU budget.

The two main actors; Gutiérrez and Arias, look like father and son and their chemistry together is spot on. Arias is brilliant as the calm and self assured secret agent who “Never fails.”  Spy Time was shot in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain and this helps the setting of the film feel authentic.

The Spanish shop fronts and the streets all put the viewer right  there. Viewers who have lived in Europe prepare for a light dose of nostalgia. (A quick sidenote: The fight scene in the covered market is brilliantly choreographed and quite funny.)

Spy Time is a 5 star film, virtually perfect in every way. Funny with a lot of action; shootouts and fights, with more than enough clever dialogue. The pacing is swift and flowing so that the 87  minute runtime feels much faster.  In terms of violence it is a tad severe so consider yourself warned.

The film is streaming on Netflix at the moment. It is a subtitled production so those who cannot cope with foreign films they “have to read” may want to give it a pass. For the rest, put your glasses on and prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

Sleep Tight (2011): Scary Spanish Thriller


Directed by Jaume Balagueró who is the man behind REC, REC 2 , Fragile, and Darkness; so his bona fides in the horror/thriller genre are beyond question. He has not disappointed with his latest entry into the genre with Sleep Tight. Even with such an impressive pedigree of horror films under his belt, Wikipedia states that this is the first film that Jaume has directed solo since the 2005 horror/thriller Fragile.

The Plot: 

Concierge Cesar appears at first glance to be the capable and ever helpful  sort of man who has everyone’s best interests at heart. We soon learn that this facade is paper thin and he only wants to spread misery and unhappiness amongst his charges. He develops an obsession with the eternally cheerful Clara who has thus far resisted his attempts to wipe the ubiquitous smile off her face. He goes to great lengths to ensure that her life is ruined. This spreading of misery is what truly makes Cesar happy and he will stop at nothing to reach his goal.

The Cast:

Luis Tosar
Marta Etura
Alberto San Juan
Petra Martínez
Sra. Verónica
Iris Almeida
Úrsula (as Iris Almeida Molina)
Cesar aka Luis Tosar.
Cesar aka Luis Tosar.

The Device:

Cesar uses his position as the apartment’s Concierge to gain access to all the tenants private lives.

The Twist:

Cesar himself is the twist, but you will ask yourself, was the woman in the hospital really  his Madre (mother)?

The Characters:

Cesar is a real piece of work. He has a smile for everyone and is pleasantly charming while he weaves his nasty spell. Señora Veronica is a older single woman who has dogs instead of children and is lonely. Ursula is a nosey and perhaps younger version of Cesar; she knows what he’s doing. Clara is the beautiful, friendly and eternally optimistic tenant who Cesar wants to ruin. He feels that his life’s purpose is to share his pathological unhappiness with the world.

Watching this film, I could not help but make a connection between Cesar and Stephen King’s milkman, Spike Milligan, in his short story Morning Deliveries. Both this film and the short story created the same feeling of unease crossed with distaste bordering on alarm.

The eternally cheerful Clara aka
The eternally cheerful Clara aka Marta Etura.

The Action:

This film kept me on the edge of my seat. Halfway through the film, it became almost unwatchable as Cesar gets more and more daring in his pursuit of unhappiness for Clara. There are some scenes towards the end of the film that had me clenching my teeth and white-knuckling my chair. The suspense was nigh on unbearable and the tension was excruciating.

The Verdict:

All the actors did a marvellous job selling their characters. Louis Tosar, who made me think so much of Joaquin Phoenix that I began to wonder if they were indeed brothers, as Cesar was beyond brilliant. And Marta Etura kept up her end of the acting bargain. Even the little girl who shadows Cesar’s actions does a superb job. Actor Alberto San Juan who shows up towards the end of the film as Clara’s boyfriend Marcos also does a more than adequate turn in the limited time given to his character.

This was a real 5 star film filled with slow moving Dionysian pathos and unbearable tension as we wait for Cesar to get caught, arrested or killed. If this the work that Juame Balagueró is capable of when he directs solo, they should let him do all his further projects alone.

Watch this film.

I wouldn't want this guy in my closet.
I wouldn’t want this guy in my closet.

The Skin I Live In (2011): Revenge Eaten Cold

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar this 2011 film is an adaptation of Thierry Jonquet‘s novel Mygale (published as Tarantula in English) *information courtesy of Wikipedia* and is about tragic death, madness and revenge.

Almodóvar first read the book ten years before the film was made and he was impressed by  “the magnitude of Doctor Ledgard’s vendetta*information courtesy of Wikipedia* and that is what he made the focus of the film.

The plot revolves around plastic surgeon Dr Robert Ledgard. At the beginning of the film he is experimenting with developing a “tougher” artificial skin that is impervious to insect bites and burning. He gives a presentation to a medical symposium and states that he is experimenting on athymic mice but later reveals that he is using human subjects as well. This admission results in his being denied permission to continue his work.

Ledgard is quite obviously extremely wealthy as his house also has a modern operating theatre as well as other high-tech medical facilities. He keeps a young woman in a room that he watches via CCTV and she is obviously being “treated” with the new tougher skin. It becomes apparent that he is obsessed with his patient, who wears an all-in-one protective “second skin” and practises yoga and some sort of fashion art.

Home chemistry with style.
Home chemistry with style.

As the film progresses, we learn more about the doctor, his staff and his circumstances. His first wife was horribly disfigured and almost died as the result of burns sustained in a car accident. As her health improves she hears their daughter singing in the garden, she gets up from her sickbed and goes to the window to observe the girl singing. Opening the curtain allows her to see her own reflection in the glass; it is that of a monster. Screaming, she flings herself from the window; landing at her daughter’s feet.

A few short years later the daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez) meets a young man who has “gate crashed” a party she is attending. The gate crasher is Vicente (Jan Cornet) and the two young people hook up. While they are headed to the gardens of the house, Vicente reveals he is high on pills and asks Norma if she takes pills. Her reply, in its innocence, shows how deeply her mother’s suicide and death at her feet has affected her. The girl is on a cocktail of drugs and is obviously a mental wreck.

A short time later the sexually aroused Vicente starts having sex with a dazed Norma, when the song that she sung when her mother killed herself is heard. She starts to panic and begins fighting Vicente and screaming. He panics and strikes her several times till she passes out. Quickly he adjusts her clothing and leaves. Ledgard goes searching for Norma and finds her unconscious. As he is bringing her around, it is apparent that she thinks he raped her.

Years of therapy commence, but, ultimately she has been damaged beyond repair and suffers her mother’s fate. Meanwhile, Ledgard searches for and finds her “attacker” from the party.

Throughout the film we learn more about Ledgard and the young woman, Vera (Elena Anaya); his housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Paredes) and their connections and the tragedies that intertwine their fates.

This film, if not done correctly, could have come off as a Soap Opera with wild tangents of plot running throughout. Watching the movie is like listening to a concerto being performed by drugged artistes who, despite their narcotised state, evoke deep dark emotions of brilliance. Despite the overall theme of retribution and tragedy, the film appears to really be about madness and obsession.

Zeca leaves no doubt as to his intentions for Vera.

On a side note here, Roberto Álamo as Robert’s half-brother Zeca, provides a short hideous comic turn as the criminal who thinks that Vera is Robert’s dead wife resurrected (Ledgard has performed surgery on her to make her resemble his dead wife) and in a suspenseful build up, he rapes Vera and dies for his effort.

Almodóvar specializes in these types of “off-kilter” films that are filled with odd and flawed characters and he does it well. The film never fails to mesmerize nor does it disappoint in plot; a plot that, despite its convoluted nature, is easy enough to follow and is impressive in its depth and scope.

The score, provided by Alberto Iglesias moves the film along well and is almost like a second skin to the events that are taking place on the screen. The movie had an estimated budget of 13 million dollars and had a box office return of over 30 million dollars. Not quite a “runaway” success, but one that shows the film was well received.

A brilliant tour de force of off-kilter characters that are all the helpless flotsam and jetsam of fate’s cruelty and worth every second spent watching it.

Vicente just beginning his penance.
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