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

Cake

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.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tina Desai
Dev Patel, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie,
David Straithairn, Ronald Pickup,
Diana Hardcastle



This sequel is the continuation of the "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel". This time the British retirees have nicely settled in Jaipur with most if not all of them gainfully employed despite being senior citizens.

Everybody gets a good scene or two and we never spend too long with any one story line before moving on to the next now endearing character whose company we enjoy. This is the norm in any film that cast many colorful characters. Most of the issues are recycled from the first film but this time there is less drama and it is mostly character driven.  Plus throw in the merry preparation and jitters of an Indian wedding so it gets a lot more vibrant, lively and generally aesthetically pleasant.

The elder actors are naturally perfect, given that these are veteran thespians in the British film industry. They never overplay their scenes and this works in stark contrast to the high energy, sometimes overacting patter of Dev Patel as Sonny. The hyper proprietor of the Marigold Hotel who is now looking to expand his brand of retirement village to further boost tourism in Jaipur. But there is a nice balance to the contrast and it is still nice to see that the people behind this franchise made a genuine effort to recapture the charming appeal of the original.

Add in Richard Gere as an American 'tourist' with a hidden agenda and it emits this cozy atmosphere of fun that won't stop raveling just because the characters are way over their prime.

Admittedly, there is way too much going on so the side plots are not fully developed but we still get to watch great British actors like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy to name a few do what they do best - mesmerize us with their brilliant acting skills. So the film still retains its charm and its feel.good.vibes so that works for me!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Longest Ride

Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood,
Alan Alda, Oona Chaplin


In a moment of weakness, I started reading Nicholas Sparks' "The Longest Ride", digitally. I say weakness because his novels are not my cup of tea. I admit I'm too sarcastic for these types of stories. I only made it to chapter 7 then lost interest.  

Lucky for me, there is a movie version so I don't need to read it, anymore. In the novel, the pages shift between the love story of Sophia (Britt Robertson), a graduating college student and Luke (Scott Eastwood), a champion bull rider and the narrative of an older man named Ira who is reminiscing about his own love story.

The standard ingredients for a typical romantic film are present - instant chemistry between the couple, a stumbling block to their blossoming romance along with the predictable conclusion -  boy and girl live happily, ever after. 

Actually, I found Ira (Alan Alda) and Ruth's (Oona Chaplin) love story and their life together much more interesting than that of Sophia and Luke. I was especially drawn to their inability to have children as I'm basically in the same boat. A sob story angle thrown into the loop is guaranteed to bring in the poignancy factor as well as some tears.

Naturally this begs the question "if a love story makes you cry, does this mean it was effective in sending its message across to the viewers?"  Well for me, it does. But given that I tend to cry easily especially when I can relate with the dire situation the characters encounter onscreen, perhaps it is best I don't use this factor as a strong basis for a successful narrative.

As for the cast, I like the onscreen chemistry between Clint Eastwood's carbon copy of a son and Britt Robertson. Never mind that Scott Eastwood still needs to take some acting lessons to further hone his craft. He is quite pleasing to the eyes so I can forego his awkwardness, for now! 
 

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