Tuesday, April 21, 2015

RELATOS SALVAJES
(WILD TALES)


I usually check out the list of films shown at the Cannes festival for my reference material on the latest foreign language movies. If the plot/story line interests me I would wait for a few months then view them online.

This Argentinian film was in competition at Cannes 2014, it was also nominated for the Best Foreign Language category at the Academy Awards. Rightfully so, I'd say because it had a really intriguing premise. This dark comedy presents through 6 different snippets how easily human beings can lose control due to injustice, inequality and/or unfair treatment. A very thin line exists between maintaining proper decorum and the burst of rage when we are suddenly confronted with an unpredictable situation.

Six stories with different characters, scenarios set in venues ranging from an airplane, a dinghy restaurant, driving on a lonely highway to a wedding reception. The stories do not overlap yet concludes without any loose ends. Each vignette is self contained and the details shown are just about enough to understand very clearly what is unfolding. The ensemble cast is composed of well known actors and actresses. Some of them are familiar as I've seen them in other movies set in Argentina. 

Overall, the humor is quite dark, sometimes downright offensive and often marked with violent reaction/behavior from the characters. Yet we can all relate with them as at some period in our lives, we have all dealt with bureaucracy, road rage and a general sense of being treated unfairly.

Throughout the entire film, I had one nagging thought: 'Sometimes it is better to just let things go'. Yet this dark comedy proves sometimes it is also morally accurate to stand up for your violated rights. Just be sure, you are ready to accept the mitigated consequences of your actions.

It is difficult to review without adding some spoilers but I believe it is best to experience this masterpiece from Argentina, first-hand. Grab a copy and marvel at this excellent film which is well paced, masterly edited with the precisely controlled balance between the matter-of-fact and the shamelessly hysterical situations.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

FORCE MAJEURE

Johannes Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli


This Swedish film unfolds in the idyllic setting of the France Alps. Tomas and Ebba along with their two young kids are vacationing in an exclusive ski resort. On the surface, everything is perfect from the snow capped mountains, the skiing facilities, the luxury hotel and even the family of four. They even brush their teeth together using their electric toothbrushes. 

Ebba tells another tourist in the same resort that they are on a break because Tomas works too much. What is supposed to be a family bonding trip soon takes on a sour note after an act of nature intervenes and rocks the very core of this family.

During a bright and sunny morning while having breakfast at the outdoors section of the restaurant, an avalanche occurs. At first, Tomas insists it is controlled and everything is fine. Until the snow mist from the avalanche reaches the very spot where they are seated and envelopes the area with its shadowy menace. What ensues during the panic is the main crux of the entire film. Ebba grabs her children to shield them while Tomas grabs his iPhone and runs away.

When I first saw that scene, I was shocked and numb from what I just witnessed. A certain calm occurs right after the incident (the avalanche) and slowly the people return to their tables to resume their interrupted breakfast. Tomas returns too but acts like nothing untoward (him leaving his family behind) happened just minutes ago.

The movie cleverly examines the different reactions of Tomas and Ebba towards the incident. They try, well Ebba tries her best to wrap her head around the fact that Tomas could easily just bail out on their family in a snap. While Tomas insists on his own version of what actually unfolded.

The direction of the film does not take the heavy handed psychoanalysis route. The disputes are staid and collected, not hysterical shouting matches. Even as they discuss the incident with Mats and Fanni, their friends who are also vacationing in the same resort, they recount it with subtle movements yet expressive facial tones. Trying to be helpful, Mats offers different scenarios to justify what Tomas did. His views puts him in a bad light as Fanni feeds some not so flattering ideas into his head about his own possible reaction if he was caught in the same situation.

The vividly crisp cinematography provides an effectively calm backdrop towards the inner turmoil which Tomas and Ebba experience after the incident. The cracks in their marriage are brought to the fore and painfully exposes the problems which they seem to have kept hidden for some time. 

The film doesn't necessarily ridicule nor judge Tomas for being a coward. It puts its emphasis on the expected roles that men are supposed to be protectors during disasters yet it doesn't turn into a battle of the sexes. Each character deserve our sympathy as they are often trapped in societal roles.

Force Majeure is described as an act of God or an effect that cannot be reasonably controlled. But as it is in real life, it is how we react to the different situations which God puts us in that truly defines our existence. "Force Majeure" is a thought provoking, gripping film that will profoundly test our faith in humanity. I highly recommend it.

Friday, April 10, 2015

THE INTOUCHABLES

Francois Cluzet, Omar Sy

"Sometimes You have to Reach into Someone
else's World to find out 
What's Missing in your Own"


It was time to delve into the completely different world of foreign language movies for my viewing entertainment. 

This French movie about the camaraderie that develops between Philippe, a wealthy quadriplegic and Driss, his caretaker was released in 2012. "The Intouchables" was a huge success all over Europe. Mostly due to the charming chemistry between its two main stars, Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy.

I'm familiar with Cluzet as I've previously seen him in various roles in other French films. A solid, steady and quite reliable actor. On the other hand, Omar Sy made quite an impact in this role, he became an instant celebrity.

Based on a true story, there isn't much background info about Philippe's source of wealth but it is obvious he is very affluent, appreciates the finer things in life. He is always well dressed despite being wheelchair bound for the rest of his existence. 

Driss only wanted to get Philippe's signature so he could receive unemployment benefits. He wasn't one of the candidates applying for the position of caretaker. He hardly qualifies as he has no educational nor any medical training for the job. But Philippe was intrigued and decided to offer Driss the task for a one month trial period. 

Soon the challenges begin for Driss as it is a very demanding job but Philippe is quite patient and understanding. They complement each other, accepting each other's flaws and differences like their contrasting tastes in music (Driss is into 80s bands like 'Earth, Wind and Fire' while Philippe prefers classical music) as their symbiotic relationship turns into a profound friendship.

The film doesn't make judgments on the visible contrast between the haves and the have-nots nor on the unlikely, interracial friendship. Perhaps because it was presented through a well written comedy that isn't a sentimental mess (as it often happens in films about handicapped people). 

The end credits show us the real people upon whom this story is based. I notice the caretaker isn't of African descent, more likely of Middle Eastern heritage. I wonder why they decided to change his character. I know there are many French actors from that particular region who have become successful in the industry. Most of them, good comedians. 

Nevertheless, Omar Sy did a good job. It doesn't diminish the feel good factor of this charmingly delightful buddy movie. I highly recommend this film, it was quite a pleasant experience.

Friday, April 3, 2015

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS

Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton,
Ben Kingsley, Aaron Paul,
John Turturro

"Once Brothers, Now Enemies"


Everybody knows the story of Moses. Regardless whether you learned it in Catechism class (like I did) or from books, movies or online ... it is a classic epic that has transcended through generations and through time. 

My earliest memory of Moses in celluloid form was portrayed by Charlton Heston in director Cecil B. DeMille's epic "The Ten Commandments".  For a movie filmed in the year 1956 it was clearly impressive with its massive set designs, authentic costumes, poignant narrative and a cast of famous actors.

So any director who decides to take on such a monumental project should be given due credit for his sheer efforts to replicate the events associated with Moses. Ridley Scott takes the helm in "Exodus: Gods and Kings" with Christian Bale as the adult Moses and Australian actor Joel Edgerton as Ramses.

While the story offers the prerequisite back story of Moses up to the time he is exiled and tasked to lead the slaves towards the promised land, the entire movie definitely lacks or fails in the emotional quotient aspect. 

The heavily scripted dialogue was a complete turn off. Come on, nobody talks that way, certainly not during those biblical times. The English accents of the cast were also quite a distraction although I have to give credit to Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton for trying their best to get into their characters psyche. They cannot be faulted if the script was poorly written and the narrative failed to effectively draw from the rich history it was based on. It lacked conviction and essentially did nothing to inspire us. 

The only positive thing about this film were the high quality computer generated visuals of the various plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the carefully choreographed fight scenes and the aerial shots of the exodus. There is no doubt that they were all visually stunning and quite spectacular to behold.

I was quite disappointed because I expected a lot more from this much hyped epic saga. In fact, I have to admit I had more fun watching the inspirational animated film "The Prince of Egypt" than I did seeing God portrayed as a creepy, chubby young boy with a distinct British accent.  What a travesty and to think I watched this today, Good Friday of all days! 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

ARBITRAGE

Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon,
Laetitia Casta, Brit Marling,
Tim Roth, Nate Parker

"Power is the best Alibi"


I was just thinking out loud that it has been a while since I saw the dashing Richard Gere in a movie, any film for that matter. Lo and behold, I discover this thriller in my folder of movies to watch. 

The silver haired actor ages well I'd say just like fine wine. In "Arbitrage" he is as debonair, if not more so in his tailored suits as Robert Miller, an astute business owner of a hedge fund company. Business terms like venture capital, mergers, hedge funds abound in the dialogue as Robert Miller finds his conglomerate at risk of failing amidst his grandiose efforts to keep it afloat. 

Robert Miller is the typical wealthy businessman with a socialite wife and 2 grown children who are eventually expected to take over his company. Granted that it still exists given all the financial problems that plague it after Miller got sucked into investing at a copper mine company in Russia.  

I guess another 'typical' aspect for a successful and sinfully rich tycoon is to have affairs with young, naive ladies who stupidly expect him to leave his wife for them. Alas, his current 'fling' ends up dying in an accident and it just happens that Miller was driving and fell asleep at the wheel.

As if his financial troubles with his company wasn't enough for Miller to be totally stressed out, the unfortunate accident makes his life spiral out of control beyond his wildest dreams. And for a man who likes everything to be in control, one can just imagine how much of a burden it is - for someone who worked so hard to sustain his comfortable lifestyle.

Arbitrage is the business practice of buying in one market and selling at an advantage in another, simultaneously. It is basically a risk free profit although there are always risks involved in the exchange part or that the market will move before the deal is sealed.

Richard Gere took a risk in playing this calculated hedge fund capitalist. But he succeeds with flying colors as he is quite convincing and you somehow tend to root for him even though he is morally conflicted, both as a businessman and a person. 

Towards the end of the film, Richard's wife Ellen (Susan Sarandon) dangles a document that will affect his and his family's future. Whether he signs it or not is not shown and we are left with a cliffhanger! Whether we agree or not with this type of conclusion is also subject to different opinions. 

But I'd say that Arbitrage is a slick, provocatively intelligent psychological thriller about greed, betrayal and moral dilemma. But the final dilemma lies with us, the audience. We are left to speculate about Robert Miller's fate.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

FADING GIGOLO

Woody Allen, John Turturro.
Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber,
Sofia Vergara, Sharon Stone

"The Oldest Profession
Just Got Older"


I may be one among a very few fans left of Woody Allen. What can I  say? The guy is an esteemed iconic figure in the film industry so despite his alleged personal family troubles, I still respect him for his wide body of work, both as an actor but more so as a director.

So I make it a point to see every single one of his movies. In "Fading Gigolo" he portrays a bankrupt business owner named Murray who is forced to close his book store and out of the blue he decides to be a 'pimp'.  He commissions his friend, Fioravante (John Turturro), a local florist to become a gigolo. In short, a male prostitute. He is a success even though Fioravante has feelings of guilt each time he accepts payment for his services.

It has to be mentioned that John Turturro wrote and directed this film which unfolds in the enclave of the Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, New York. Vis a vis with the gigolo premise, another story unveils too in the form of Avigal (Vanessa Paradis in a off beat role) a Hasidic Rabbi's widow with 6 children.  Living mostly a sheltered life with many restrictions, she is mostly lonely until Murray convinces her to go for a massage session with Fioravante. Understandably, this awakens her inner spirit and she feels reborn albeit must still conform to the strict dictates of her faith.

There are many layers in this far fetched yet humorous spectacle. But Turturro manages to blend them all together with the help of an unexpected line up of actors cast in unconventional roles. He pays homage to Woody Allen's screen work in terms of dialogue, tone and atmosphere, even down to the musical score of mostly jazz tunes. He probably wrote the entire film with Allen in mind and I'd say he did a good job even though it strives on a preposterous plot which nobody would take seriously yet it kept me entertained and quite amused.
 

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