Thursday, September 24, 2015

Heneral Luna

John Arcilla, Joem Bascon,
Mon Confiado, Archie Alemania
Jeffrey Quizon, Arron Villaflor

"Bayan o Sarili?"

Everyone + their aunts were raving about this history based film about one of our most valiant heroes - General Antonio Luna. My hubby suggested we go watch it as well. After all, he is a history professor and even though he already knows this chapter by heart, he wanted to see the approach that director Jerrold Tarog would use to convey to the viewing public what made Luna such an iconic figure in our colorful history.

Authentic wardrobe and cinematographic landscape, dialogue reminiscent of the era and a stable of highly believable actors buoyed the film. The first part of the film suffered in terms of editing because several scenes would rapidly shift as they tried to incorporate as many 'back stories' as possible. But it later stabilizes, so to speak and things move smoothly until the gripping dramatic conclusion. 

I did not like the scenes where they used comical tunes to convey humor. Perhaps it was done to lighten the mood but I felt it wasn't appropriate and they did it just to generate laughs. It was fascinating though to see the political machinations which occurred during the closed door cabinet meetings led by President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado) where a clash of diverse opinions, heated arguments, hurt egos and wounded pride reigned supreme. Given that it was a very volatile period in our history, it is understandable that tempers will flair up as motives and convictions are tested and questioned.

It is a controversial film as there are numerous "murmurs" as to who really ordered the assassination of the feisty general. Yet the film doesn't seek to preach nor provide any answers and instead prefers to awaken the nationalistic and patriotic sense of the Filipinos through the heroic attitude of its main character. 

Much credit goes to John Arcilla for his larger than life portrayal of Antonio Luna. Arcilla nailed it by displaying the multiple facets of the embattled general. A well balanced mixture of subtle and subdued acting during pensive scenes yet aggressive and tenacious in very dramatically charged sequences. He embodied the true persona of General Luna, by not glamorizing him. This works as Luna was a flawed character presented as a strong willed person with a bad temper. His authoritarian ways would rub people off the wrong way and this in essence led to his brutal slaying.  

Another point that makes this film highly relevant today is that history keeps repeating itself and our nation is still beset with behemoth problems. The sad part is we may be "free" but we are still our own worst enemies. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Saving Mr. Banks

Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks,
Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti

"Behind the Beloved Book is 
A Story Beyond Words"

This film gives us the story of how Walt Disney struggled to secure the movie rights to "Mary Poppins". It took him almost 20 years to convince author P.L Travers (Emma Thompson) to accept his offer. 

"Saving Mr. Banks" focuses on the two weeks in 1961 that P.L Travers is in Los Angeles as a consultant on the set of the film. She was very concerned that her beloved nanny might be defiled by the trappings of Hollywood especially when she found out her book would be turned into a musical. As the production team do their best to impress the author with their vivid storyboards and cheerful songs composed by the renowned Sherman brothers, P.L Travers is digging in her heels and remains quite stubborn, and very difficult to work with.

Aside from the production scenes, the film is interspersed with flashbacks of her very miserable childhood, growing up in a small town in Australia. She idolized father who worked at a local bank. He was also a troubled heavy drinker, prone to depression. Despite being dirt poor, her father would regale his daughters with wild tales born from his vivid imagination. She drew inspiration from the events in her life and this heavily reflected in her books.

The narrative took on a very sentimental tone when it focused on the scenes from her very tough childhood, sometimes way too melancholic for my taste. Thankfully there was a good balance with scenes shot in the happiest place on earth, Disneyland.

Tom Hanks as Walt Disney gave a well defined performance. He was affable and quite the gentleman just like I imagined the real Disney would be. But he was also quite astute as a businessman and this clearly contributed to the success of the franchise. 

There is no doubt that Emma Thompson dominates this film - as the nonsense Brit with poor social skills coupled with her sarcastic wisdom and deadpan humor, she gave a heartfelt, highly emotional portrayal of the author. Another fascinating work from Ms Thompson, as usual!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Two Faces of January

Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst,
Oscar Isaac

It has been a while since I've seen Viggo Mortensen on the big screen and when I consulted the IMDb website, I realized he has been steady doing what he does best - act. He just does films which are not blockbusters or newsworthy. But his acting is still consistently good and I believe he is one of the most underrated actors in the celluloid world. Perhaps by choice, he might not be into all the glamour and intrigues that is part and parcel of such a fickle industry. Who knows?
Anyway in this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel, he plays Chester MacFarland, a swindler/con artist vacationing in Athens with his much younger wife, Colette portrayed by Kirsten Dunst. Set in the year 1962, the couple find themselves on the run after a private investigator out to reclaim his client's money is accidentally killed by Chester in the bathroom of their hotel room. 

Panicked, they 'escape' with the help of Rydal (Oscar Isaac) a dubious tour guide (cons innocent tourists) who also happens to be an American. He had earlier in the day met the MacFarlands while they were touring the Parthenon. Rydal promises to secure for them new passports using false identities so they can leave Greece.

Most of the film unfolds in scenic Greece as the trio hop from one island town to another while they wait for their fake documents. The intriguing plot is cleverly executed with a Hitchcock vibe. A throwback to the film noirs and thrillers back in the golden age of cinema.

The well developed characters interact flawlessly with each other. There is an underlying tension between Chester and Rydal as the former is increasingly getting paranoid over the true intentions of the tour guide. While Rydal seems to obsessing over the mesmerizing beauty of the young Colette.

Kirsten Dunst has a short yet significant role as her Colette is the hinge that binds the two male characters. Oscar Isaac is solid and steady even if his Rydal mostly gave me the creeps so he was very effective.

But this is no doubt, Viggo Mortensen's film, that's for sure. His physical appearance and his nuanced demeanor was truly a sight to see. Wavy nicely combed hair, donning a white suit with a white fedora hat and a cigarette in his mouth the entire movie, he was in true character form. Channeling a Humphrey Bogart vibe. Honestly, Viggo is the only reason I was able to endure this thriller with a surprise ending. For me, he is more than enough.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


Jennifer Aniston, Adriana Barraza,
Chris Messina, Sam Worthington,
Felicity Huffman, Anna Kendrick

"Self-forgiveness is a painful path"

The mark of a true artist is her/his ability to adapt to different roles in as many genre as possible. So they won't get typecast in a familiar yet predictable acting style. For Jennifer Aniston, this movie is her opportunity to showcase her dramatic chops and I'd say she passed with flying colors.

Claire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston) is mostly confined to her home (although she does get around through the assistance of her helper) as she suffers from chronic pain brought about by a car crash where she lost her only son.  

Scarred, both physically and more so emotionally, she is mostly bitter yet hilarious in a sarcastic way. She becomes fixated with the suicide of Nina (Anne Kendrick), a woman who was also in her chronic pain support group. As she ingratiates herself into the life of Nina's husband, she re-discovers her joie de vivre which naturally has been missing in her life since her personal tragedy.

We understand that Claire has the right to be bitter, annoyed and alienated everyone in her life. Even though she can be quite irritating, she still draws us into her 'obsession' and we sort of indulge her whim. She is clearly affluent as evidenced by her well furnished abode and she can afford to hire Silvana (Adriana Barraza) a very patient helper whose concern for Claire is genuinely sincere.

The plot is intriguing enough without being too dramatic as we are only given fleeting glimpses of the horrific accident. And this works well in this movie as it avoids going the Lifetime movie of the week route. 

An obviously low budget flick with a believable script buoyed by good direction but surely it is the subtle and poignantly moving performance of Jennifer Aniston which draws us into the life of Claire Bennett.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The One I Love

Elisabeth Moss, Mark Duplass,
Ted Danson

At first glance, you'd think this movie was going to be just another film that deals with a married couple trying to work out their marital woes. But as it progressed, the film took on an imaginatively inventive manner in analyzing and exposing the cracks in the marriage. 

Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) visit a marriage counselor seeking help. He notes their glaring differences and suggests they go to a place where he claims many couples in the same boat went to rediscover themselves and sort out the kinks in their relationship. 

With no expectations, Ethan and Sophie venture out to this sprawling bungalow and settle in. Soon enough, the house exudes a different vibe as the troubled couple slowly realize there is another dimensional element right within the confines of the compound.

The plot is complex and deals with self discovery, redemption and forgiveness. At its heart is a raw dissection of our daily expectations on the roles we have to assume to make a marriage, succeed. Is there a  general sense of marital discord and discontent because we expect too much from ourselves and from our partners? Or is it just right to merely blame incompatibility as the main culprit for the complications that are bound to arise? Pointed questions which are effectively explored in this film.

Moss and Duplass are the only characters (aside from Ted Danson as the marriage counselor in a very brief role) and the quirky twists in the plot demand a lot from them. They have to display multiple interpretations of their characters and they do a good job with much flair and great acting skills.

"The One I Love" is a well crafted, clever unconventional romance with finely marked twists and turns. Great performances from the two leads are an added bonus. Highly recommended!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Immigrant

Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix,
Jeremy Renner

There is no doubt that America is a land of immigrants. This film tried to envision the struggles the early immigrants went through after they set foot on Ellis Island, fresh from the boat, so to speak.  

It is the year 1921, two sisters from Poland, Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and Magda are in the queue to be processed. Magda is sickly (she is stricken with tuberculosis) and is immediately separated and put in quarantine. Faced with uncertainty in a foreign land, Ewa is 'taken in' by a glib talker named Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) who promises her shelter and a job. Sadly, the job turns out to be in the flesh trade but Ewa is a brave, feisty girl so she bears the humiliation as she desperately needs the money to buy medicines for her sick sister.

"The Immigrant" is a bleak narration of the ills of society and its innocent victims. It is set during the depression years yet we all know that human trafficking is still very rampant in this day and age.  A societal menace that preys on the depraved who are stripped of their dignity and are caught in the never ending cycle of human slavery. Tragic, to say the least.

The good cast composed of Cotillard, Phoenix and Renner do their best to add some depth to their characters. Cinematography is realistic as it depicts the grim reality of the mean streets of Manhattan back in the 1920s, as well as the seedy vaudeville shows prevalent during that period. Wardrobe is also authentic as displayed through the costume pieces worn by Cotillard.

Yet there is something lacking in the plot or the way the narration unfolded which made it pretty staid and static. It failed to appeal to my emotions and as the film progressed I kept expecting it to somehow change its perspective, yet sadly it did not. I felt it didn't offer anything new to the table, this type of sob story has been done over and over again and also with more passion and conviction.

One more thing, the fact that Magda was able to get out of quarantine despite being diagnosed with tuberculosis doesn't make sense. Back in those days, there was still no cure for this severe respiratory sickness.  It seemed that it just wanted to have its happy ending  ... never mind that it wasn't believable, at all.

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