Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Still Alice

Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth,
Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart

Alzheimer's Disease is a debilitating condition not only for the victim but I believe more so for their family members whose hearts break as they helplessly watch the lively, bright person slowly fade away.

Julianne Moore manifests these fears and apprehensions in her role as Alice Howland, a brilliant linguistics professor married and with three grown children, who is diagnosed with an early onset of Alzheimer's.  At first, it seemed like a case of being forgetful until she seeks medical help and her doctor gives her the bad news.  

As there is still no cure, Alice must prepare herself as well as her family members for the long term care required as she faces the uncertainty in her frightening journey.

The supporting cast here plays a minor role as Julianne Moore carried the entire weight of the film on her able shoulders. She delivers a fine performance without resorting to hysterical and over dramatic antics just to convey the uneasiness felt by her character. She is mostly calm and composed although her eyes do project the quiet sense of panic that overcomes her as the disease progresses and she is unable to make sense of it.

It is quite poignant as Alice records a video of herself giving instructions on what to do, where to find her medicines as she knows there will come a time when she won't be in total control of her senses.

"Still Alice" could easily have taken the movie-of-the-week approach with melodramatic sequences filled with tears flowing down your cheeks and a heavy heart as you watch the character deteriorate but gratefully it didn't. 

A fine screenplay adapted from a novel and a defining performance from Julianne Moore uplifts this movie which tackled a melancholic, poignantly sensitive topic.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

While We're Young

Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts,
Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver

"Life Never Gets Old"

Noah Baumbach's 2014 offering is a comedy that explores the disconnect between generations. The millenials with their sense of entitlement vs those who are now in their middle age period who had to work hard for everything and didn't just wait for things to be handed down to them.

It is presented through the eyes of a 40 something childless New York married couple Josh (Ben Stiller) and Cornelia (Naomi Watts). They start hanging out with their new friends, a much younger couple Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried). Soon the older couple feel a renewed sense of energy which seemed to have escaped from their marriage, their career and their lives, in general. But thankfully, the older couple come back to their senses and realize with much disgust, the true nature of the hipster couple.

The first part of the movie offers sharp and though provoking observations about aging. How easily it is for couples who have been together for several years to fall into a rut in their lives. The insights are best presented within the scenes and older characters. Ben Stiller is good in these types of characters  - those who somehow through time become complacent yet complain about every single disenchantment that complicates their lives. As Josh, he fits the stereotype and essays his character with aplomb. Naomi Watts who is a steady actress is equally good as his wife Cornelia.

But for me the interesting part occurs once Josh realizes how disarming Jamie and Darby really are. How he tries to extricate himself from his 'newer' self even though it was a more enjoyable and less boring phase for Josh and Cornelia. Their change in attitude is refreshing yet they should also find a way to still remain true to themselves.

"While we're young" is a relatable comedy that should appeal to any generation. Good writing and a reliable cast add a charming touch to an otherwise contrived conclusion. A nice case study to see the distinction and also the similar appeal between these featured generations.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Danish Girl

Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander,
Amber Heard

"Find the Courage to be Yourself"

Set in Copenhagen in the 1920s, this Tom Hooper directed film is elegant and delicately narrated. As delicate as its lead character, Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) a Swedish painter/artist who is credited as one of the earliest transgender persons to come out publicly. During an era when such behavior was largely frown upon and not accepted in society, Einar was fiercely bold in his aim to be who s/he really was.

The intriguing part is that Einar biggest supporter was his wife, Gerda (Alicia Vikander) also a renowned artist. A much celebrated painter who gained fame after she painted her husband as a lady (even though nobody knew it was him) and her paintings were always sold out during its exhibition in galleries around Europe.

Einar and Gerda eventually settled in Paris after she was commissioned to present her acclaimed paintings in a gallery in the city of lights. It was also a "convenient" place to call the French capital home as it was a more liberal city thus enabling  Einar to be herself by openly dressing up in women's clothes and going by the name ... Lili Elbe.

Eddie Redmayne as expected shines in any type of roles and dressing as a woman just happens to be another requirement for his character. He did well and his mannerisms as a woman were spot on. His genuine portrayal was appropriate and it was easy to empathize with this complex and tragic character. 

Redmayne and Vikander have good chemistry together even though their roles require so much from them, physically and mentally. For me, Alicia Vikander was quite a revelation as this was my first time to see her in a film and her nuanced performance was excellent. "The Danish Girl" in the title refers to her character Gerda Wegener who was the wing beneath Lili's wings and her unconditional support for her "husband" was very admirable. 

This film is the perfect vehicle for the two main leads to highlight their acting prowess. It is also a good tribute as it pays homage to the brave souls who fought for their rights to be recognized as members of not just the LGBT community but of society, itself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Martian

Matt Damon,  Jessica Chastain,
Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels,
Sean Bean, Chiwetel Ejiofor

"Bring Him Home"

After a fierce storm on the planet Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is missing and presumed dead by his crew mates. They hastily have to leave the planet for their own safety. Their mission cut short, they are heading back to Earth which would take several years.

But as luck or bad luck would have it, Mark is still alive albeit a bit bruised from being tossed around during the storm. Finding himself alone on a strange planet with help being miles away, he has to learn to survive on very meager supplies as well as rely on battered communication lines to relay to Earth that he is still alive.

I'd say that 90% or perhaps more like 85% of the film is focused on Matt Damon as the unfortunate and 'abandoned' astronaut. He has the task of making sure that the audience doesn't get bored with watching him survive on Mars. He delivers his lines with a dash of humor, still being his charming self even though he has to act without any interaction with other actors. It is also interesting to note how much weight he, himself lost in the course of the filming just to make his characterization more realistic.

The film is well made through the able direction of Ridley Scott who thrives in these types of movies. Films that offer the correct blend of action, drama and humor through a good narrative about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity. 

The support cast composed of well established stars do their part but the success of "The Martian" is hinged firmly on the shoulders of Matt Damon. And no surprise there ... he delivers and doesn't disappoint at all.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay

Cinema 6, SM Megamall

"Love Knows No Boundaries"

Room in this case is a small confined space where a mother (Brie Larson) and her 5 year old son, Jack have been living in captivity for several years. We know this movie is based on true to life events which will make our skin crawl as such a horrific scenario is not just fiction but really happening in some remote place out there. 

Despite the claustrophobic vibe this scenario will surely emit, the movie manages to draw its audience into the simple existence of the mother and her rather rambunctious child. For a kid who was born within the tiny space and who has never seen the outside world, he seems to be quite 'normal' just like any typical 5 year old boy. The bond between them is palpable as they only have each other for company. 

It is only when the captor enters into the picture and 'intrudes' into this special place/room of Jack and his mother, that we realize the nefarious severity of the situation. Suddenly, the words 'abduction', 'kidnapping', 'sex slave' clouds your mind and you feel your heart tinge with fear and pity for what she went through and is continuing to experience at the hands of her captor.

Yet somehow, the film doesn't overtly focus on the depravity and melodrama and chooses to present the close bond between the young mother and her son. And how she never lost hope that one day they will be able to escape from 'the room'.

Brie Larson is a good choice as the young mother and interestingly it is when she is out and has been freed from her hellish existence that she shines. Her (in)ability to adopt to a vastly different life is difficult to watch. By aliening her one true 'ally' her son, her acting skills are put to the test and gladly she passes with flying colors. She deserves the best actress accolades she has reaped so far and surely Hollywood will look out for her and hope she is able to sustain her success through her minimalist acting style. In the same breath, Jason Tremblay as her long haired son is endearing to watch as Jack with his naivety and innocence and gives a believable characterization. It is also realistic as he essays his confusion as he grasps to understand his mother's distant behavior towards him after they are out of the room.

If you expect heavy drama and hysterical histrionics from this movie, you will be disappointed.  But "Room" deserves to be seen if only for Brie Larson's subtle but award winning performance.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Revenant

Leonardo di Caprio, Domhnall Gleeson,
Tom Hardy 

Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex

"Blood lost. Life found."

I admit that despite being a movie buff, I hardly venture into the dark confines of a cinema theater, nowadays. 

First of all, movie tickets prices are exorbitant. An expense I deem as a 'want' rather than a 'need'. Secondly, I would wait for the films to be available online so I can just watch at my own pace within the comforts of my home usually as I am propped up with pillows in my bed. That way I can rewind, pause and wear earphones to better hear the audio/dialogue.

So it takes someone or something really special for me to head on to the cinema. In this case, my sister was in town and she paid for my ticket hehe. And also I wanted to see Leonardo di Caprio in a role which may clinch for him, the elusive Best Performance by an Actor at upcoming Academy Awards aka the Oscars. 

I was a bit apprehensive because I've read a lot of articles about the dark and gruesome theme of the film. The fact that it was set in the early 1800s in the vast American wilderness (a period that doesn't pique my interests) was another factor. Yet no way would I miss the chance to watch Leo essay what they say is his hardest role yet in his wide arsenal of movies. 

Not only was I blown away by the vivid cinematography, I was also true to form deeply impressed by di Caprio's acting talent. His sheer endurance to persevere both as the character he was playing as well as survive the insurmountable tasks assigned upon him by his director, Alejandro Inarritu was praiseworthy.

Although I'd say the film was too long and there were several scenes which should have been edited, this tale of survival in the face of so many obstacles will tug at your heartstrings. The able direction, the gorgeous cinematography and the determined look on Leo's face + the poignant narrative about survival  - all contribute to make "The Revenant" a must see epic!

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