Monday, September 5, 2016

45 Years

Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay

A blast from a past threatens to dampen the simple yet elegant celebration of Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff's (Tom Courtenay) 45th wedding anniversary. A letter from the Swiss government informs Geoff that they found the frozen intact body of his former girlfriend Katya who died from a fall while they were hiking in the Swiss Alps, several years ago.

This letter throws Geoff off course as all his profound memories of his Katya come flashing back. He is in a daze sneaking off in the middle of the night to watch old videos of their time together. Kate though tries to remain focus on the preparations for the anniversary still enthusiastic even as she observes Geoff's changed demeanor. 

Set in a small English country side town, the film is clearly a vivid portrayal of the poignant breakdown of a seemingly happy marriage between a childless couple. It is painful to watch as long hidden and well suppressed feelings slowly brew to the surface. Kate and Geoff's contrasting reactions and demeanor adding to the tension of their now very fragile union. Would the celebration push through or would they cancel?  

Great subtle acting from veteran actors Rampling and Courtenay give this simple yet very meaningful (especially for couples who have been married for a long time) movie, so much life. 

It is important to observe Rampling's face during the last scene ... excellent performance. This shot alone is worth all the different emotions we, the viewers go through as we watch in awed silence "45 Years".

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Little House

Eiga Sai 2016
Japanese Film Festival
Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex

Upon the death of his grandmother Taki, Takeshi discovers the last few pages of her memoirs. In fact, he was the one who encouraged her to write about her colorful life as a maid in an affluent household. These are shown in flashbacks as a young Taki assumes her duties in the little house. A bungalow with a distinct red roof in Tokyo, whose owners are a manager in a toy company and his stay at home wife, Tokiko together with their young son.  

The flashbacks cover the period before and during the second World War and are shot mostly inside the abode. These scenes are presented with a pinkish tone probably to give it a nostalgic vibe of  highly volatile era.

It is only when the subject of adultery enters the picture when this predictable film pulses beyond its averagely low key tone. Although the adultery is merely implied, the impact on Taki's conscience is I believe the pivotal point of the film. This is manifested through an older Taki who gets quite emotional when she recalls that secret she had to hide for all those years.

Good acting from the female leads uplift the multi-dimensional layers of their characters. But the sanitized approach of tackling the political and historical elements of the story is quite disappointing. It fails to capture the essence of that era as depicted through the eyes of an upper middle class Tokyo family living in their little red roofed house.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Emperor in August

Eiga Sai 2016
Japanese Film Festival
Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex

August 1945 was a very important month in Japan's war history. After the leaders of the Allied nations met in Potsdam to negotiate for the end of the second World War, they issued a declaration. This statement known as the Potsdam Declaration basically sealed the deal for Japan. They were given an ultimatum to unconditionally surrender and withdraw their troops from nations which they occupied during the entirety of WWII.  

This film shows the perspective from Japan's side as the authorities from the Emperor himself to the members of his Cabinet weigh in on their proper response to the Potsdam Declaration.

Shown through short yet comprehensive scenes of various scenarios from the Cabinet meetings, to the audience with the Emperor as well as the growing coup brewing among the young officers (who wanted to fight till the very end and not surrender at all), this film offers a good behind.the.scenes narration of that important time in history.

All those endless footage of the numerous Cabinet meetings were necessary to portray the dilemma which Japan found itself in after the issuance of the Potsdam Declaration yet I figure a closer view of the impending coup d'etat being orchestrated by the young commissioned officers would have given the film a good balance to sustain the momentum. 

Even though the title mentions the Emperor, I believe this film did not do enough to delve into a deeper introspection of his character. He is portrayed as being compassionate and pensive about the future of his citizens after the war. How Japan would rebuild its nation after the devastation. These are all valid sentiments, naturally. 

Yet this is in stark contrast to the numerous atrocities which the Japanese army committed during the war which was waged in the Emperor's name.  I understand that the Japanese basically worship him and regard him as "God" so perhaps the writers didn't want to tarnish his 'image'?

An interesting piece of narration but there were some missing elements which could have given the film a solid edge in its portrayal of a definitive event in a nation's war history.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bridge of Spies

Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance

"In a World on the Brink,
the Difference between War and Peace 
was one Honest Man"

Having Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in a film is certainly a good combination and "Bridge of Spies" doesn't disappoint in any aspect. This espionage drama is an authentic narrative about the testy and frosty relationship between the USA and the USSR during the height of the Cold War. 

It specifically focuses on the behind closed doors negotiations which ensued to ensure the safe release of a US spy pilot shot down over Russia in exchange for the extradition of a suspected Russian spy caught red handed in America. In short, one spy for another spy so everyone is happy and the Cold War doesn't escalate into the 3rd World War!

The film is well made with tension filled moments combined with funny scenarios spiced with good values. The kind of values which sadly is firmly lacking nowadays in a world where terror attacks is slowly becoming the norm. 

But the film had a tendency to give this vibe. I refer to the last few scenes where Tom Hanks is back in the US on board a train and the background scenes are of children playing safely in the streets and it is interspersed with a flashback scene of Hanks in a tram in East Berlin and the prevailing shots are bleak surroundings with barbed wires on buildings. That shot right there didn't sit well with me, it wasn't really necessary. Overall though the film was an enjoyable viewing experience.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Woman in Gold

Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds

"Justice is Priceless"

This true story of Maria Altmann, a Jewish American (of Austrian descent) woman's journey to reclaim her family's cherished possessions taken by the Nazis is highly poignant. It can be faulted to sometimes feel like a Hallmark movie of the week yet its main message is very relevant. Surely, the injustice committed during the second World War by the Nazis against the Jews is a very broadly sensitive subject. 

"Woman in Gold" though doesn't aim to highlight the atrocities and simply presents the lengths that Maria (Helen Mirren) went through to claim what is rightfully hers. Flashbacks of her younger days in Vienna are shown in between scenes of present day as she braces herself for a dragging courtroom battle both in the US and in Austria which is ably championed by her young rookie lawyer named Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds). 

Both Reynolds and Mirren do well in their respective roles and even though the film had a tendency to drag on a bit, it was still an effective narrative. It was quite an eye opener when it comes to the millions of art works which were confiscated during World War II.

Most interesting was the story behind the painting by Gustav Klimt "The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer" who just happens to be Maria Altmann's aunt. The famous painting which was also known as "The Woman in Gold" due to her glittery attire in the portrait was one of the national treasures of Austria given that Klimt was a much celebrated Austrian artist. So I could understand how difficult it must have been for the Austrian government to simply relinquish this famous painting to its rightful owner. 

This film was much more informative than the disappointing "Monuments Men" which merely wasted the acting talents of its ensemble cast headed by George Clooney.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Big Eyes

Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz

"A True Story about Art
and the Art of Deception."

I have to say that you would not think that this biopic would be directed by esteemed director Tim Burton. Probably because it doesn't feature any eccentric characters nor delve into any quirky story line. 

It is based on the true story about the celebrated painter Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz) who gained fame in the late 1950s and 1960s for his vivid portraits of waifs with big eyes. He transformed the art world as he also commercialized popular art by selling replicas of his paintings in postcard forms which were way cheaper than his original paintings. But as it turns out, it was his long suffering wife Margaret (Amy Adams) who was the real artist behind those enigmatic paintings but she kept it a secret as his success meant they would live comfortably.

Early in the movie, she is portrayed as a single mother who left her abusive husband and to make ends meet, she would sell her paintings. Her explanation as to why she painted that way is because the eyes are the windows to one's soul so she wanted to emphasize their relevance. She meets and falls in love with a struggling street artist/realtor named Walter Keane who it turns out is really a fake and merely copies or forges paintings.

Yet Margaret continued to stay in the background even as Walter takes all the credit for her hard work. Keeping it a secret even from her own daughter until she has had enough of their tumultuous marriage and she files for divorce. The truth eventually prevails and she is rightfully unveiled and acknowledged as the real artist behind those "Big Eyes".

A story of vindication, awakening and the value of self worth that is well acted by reliable actors like Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. Although there are several loop holes in the plot, it is still inspirational and the theme of women empowerment shines through and through.

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