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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Mon Roi
(My King)

French Film Festival 2016
Greenbelt 3 Cinemas

I'd admit, this melodrama that focused on the destruction of a marriage was difficult to watch. It felt like you are on a freaky roller coaster ride that will leave you breathless yet at the same time also quite exhilarated from the fervor!

Toni and Giorgio were united by their strong attraction to each other. Toni, a successful lawyer is fiercely independent while Giorgio a renowned restaurateur is well basically a jerk for want of a correct word to describe his colorful personality. 

After a lovemaking session, Toni asks him if he was a 'good person' and he replies "Nah on the contrary, I am the king of the jerks" thus the film is titled "Mon Roi" or My King referring to her term of endearment for him.

Both of them are strong willed individuals who have contrasting demeanor yet somehow their marriage for the most part thrive amidst several conflicts and imperfections. Because no marriage is perfect, right?

We witness the ups and downs of their union as Toni is recovering in a rehab/therapy facility as she fractured her knee in a skiing accident. Well we can say that perhaps it wasn't really an accident as it appears Toni deliberately injured herself so she could have some days off from their very toxic relationship.

Seamless flashbacks of their first meeting, to their wedding and the birth of their son weave in and out of scenes from her rehab sessions. She sticks out as a sore thumb as the other patients are mostly younger and from different ethnic backgrounds. But she quickly makes friends even as she reflects on the sad state of her marriage to Giorgio. 

Vincent Cassel as Giorgio is a delight to watch even as he is mostly a jerk in this role. For me, he has always been such an steady actor who really immerses himself in any role and as Giorgio his intensity still shines through even though he has visibly aged, physically.

I am not familiar with the actress who plays Toni but based on what I've read, she is an accomplished scriptwriter cum actress. Her characterization of the beleaguered Toni was spot on complete with expressive facial connotations and meaningful body language which added so much depth to her role.

As I've mentioned earlier, it is an highly emotional film so it might not please certain viewers but I'd recommend it as a valuable lesson on how not to ruin your marriage.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Grand Central

French Film Festival 2016
Greenbelt 3 Cinema

"Grand Central" is set far away from the sleek and cosmopolitan Parisian environs. It occurs in a small industrial town where blue collar workers are the main characters in this drama. The local nuclear power plant is the place where most of the town folks irk their living. A highly dangerous workplace where the the risk to radiation exposure is a daily concern.

Out of this menace, an illicit romance develops between Gary, a drifter working for pittance at the plant and Karole (who also works there but in another department), the fiancee of Toni who happens to be one of Gary's co-workers. 

Both characters risk both their career and their moral fiber by having a passionate affair in such a closely knitted community. Tensions arise both from the hazards of their demanding work as well as from the torrid copulation they are desperately trying to hide. 

Sad to say, there is no deeper meaning or deeper purpose to their relationship. It is merely spurred by lust and nothing else. There is no lengthy  discussion about the future of their relationship. Even as they are thrown a major curve ball, the manner in which they both react is a study in contrast. Both of them visibly affected yet each of them sticking to what they know is right and learning to accept life and everything it offers, differently.

Lea Seydoux (one of the latest Bond girls) is luminously perfect for the role of Karole and her chemistry with Gary (Tahar Rahim) is palpable. Both Karole and Gary strike as tragic characters who might need our sympathy more than we are willing to admit. 

Towards the ending, there seems to be a tiny bright spark of hope for  Karole and Gary as the loud deafening sound of a potential meltdown at the plant reverberates through the entire town. No matter how tiny it might be ... the key word is hope. 

But, you see for me, in every love triangle there are always three people involved, obviously! I tend to feel a lot more sympathy for the one who gets cheated on than the ones who through some fluke of nature feel like it is justified to pursue the affair ... but that's just me, heh!

Bird People

French Film Festival 2016
Greenbelt 3 Cinema

Of all the films I watched in this year's festival, "Bird People" is the most quirky, eccentric and really quite strange.

It evolves around 2 people whose lives are explored in the same setting - the Hyatt hotel located beside the Charles de Gaulle airport in the French capital. 

Gary (Josh Charles) is an American on business in Paris before proceeding to Dubai for more meetings. He communicates mostly in English and through a local who translates for him during his business meetings. Out of the blue, he decides to quit his job, end his marriage, lounge in his hotel room and just stay in Paris, indefinitely. All this he does in an eerily calm demeanor, sans hysterics, no explanation. 

The other one is Audrey, a young chambermaid at the hotel. Practically invisible to hotel guests as she diligently does her tasks, she is visibly stuck in a rut, bored and a loner. One day as she explores the rooftop of the hotel which has a bird's eye view of the airplanes parked at the tarmac of the airport, she flies! Yes, she turns into a little sparrow. No magic, no flash lightning effect ... nothing at all to indicate she would literally become a bird!

So she is all over the place, exploring the hotel grounds, flying high up in the air,. Sometimes she is talking, other times she is quiet and just flying all over. The camera zooms in and out of places, giving us a literal bird's eye view from Audrey's perspective as a sparrow.

Perhaps this transformation implies she is totally fed up with her routine life, she takes flight, literally. No further explanation is also given for Gary's sudden life altering decision to just quit everything without any sense of what he wants to do from that moment on. 

It can be frustrating as I tend to overthink and over analyze but I'd deem it is best to just let things be as they are and not turn it into something it isn't.  Either that or I just tuned myself out as soon as she started her flight as a little sparrow.

Towards the end, when the two characters briefly encounter each other in the lobby of hotel (by the way, she is back as Audrey!) there are hints that something just might come out of it or maybe not. Who knows?! We are left to form our own conclusions but the question is ... do we have to or do we even care?!

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