Wednesday, September 24, 2014

WISH I WAS HERE

Zach Braff, Kate Hudson, 
Joey King, Jason Gad, 
Mandy Patinkin

"Life is an Occasion.
Rise to It"


Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is down on his luck. A struggling actor who can't get past auditions, his only brother Noah (Josh Gad) is a bum, his kids' education in a private school is threatened as Aidan's father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) is terminally ill with cancer so he can no longer afford to pay for their tuition fees.

So Aidan decides to home school them and in the process he teaches them about life. He re-discovers himself and makes life altering decisions about his career, his family and life itself. His volatile past with his strict father helps him make different choices in his parenting style, he courses an alternative path for his career and his relationship with his estranged father is renewed.  

A good family movie that teaches us that the manner in which we were brought up should not be a deterrent or a hindrance to the way we wish to approach our careers, how to raise our kids and just live life as we envision it for ourselves.  

Plenty of life lessons can be learned from "Wish I was Here" as most of the stars give good performances without being overbearing or preachy in their technique of essaying flawed characters whose personalities mimic our own shortcomings and weaknesses. 

I admit I never watched Zach Braff in "Scrubs" but I find myself drawn to his style of writing and directing movies which have a massive appeal since he caters for ordinary people with supposedly boring yet very ordinary lives.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, F. Murray
Abraham, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray,
Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum,
Tony Revolori, Edward Norton


From the director who gave us such distinctively quirky films such as "The Darjeeling Limited" and "The Royal Tenenbaums", comes another gem hemmed from his brilliantly creative mind - The Grand Budapest Hotel.

It recounts the adventures of a hotel concierge named Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) who along with his lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) set out to unravel the truth behind the mysterious death of one of its distinguished guests. 

What ensues are well crafted scenes upon scenes of complex framework of the narratives being presented through a visually vibrant cinematography, from symmetrical shots, to characters running in slow motion, as well as chase scenes, and explanatory montages - all of which are typically expected and pleasantly anticipated from a Wes Anderson penned film.

The plot itself is quite funny and captivates the audience with its sublimely awkward to the point of being outright ridiculous (in a good way, if there is such a thing!) story line and its numerous yet essential side plots. 

Having said that, I admit there are some shortcomings like certain situations are sometimes built up and then let off easy. Regardless, it didn't detract too much from the main essence of the film -  the beautiful account of the friendship that forms between a poor lobby boy and the legendary concierge who took him under his wing.

Plenty of major stars (Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Adrien Brody, Jude Law to mention a few) add support to the main characters. Even though some appear briefly or in cameo parts, all of them lend credence to the merry assortment of interesting characters they each play.

I could go on and on about the good merits of this whimsical film but I'd recommend that you watch it with an open mind, so we could all nod our heads in agreement and proclaim that this may be the best film yet from director Wes Anderson.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

UNA PISTOLA EN CADA MANO
(A GUN IN EACH HAND)

(SPAIN)
CINE EUROPA 17
Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex


Rarely do films focus on the emotions or sentiments of men. Perhaps because we associate feelings with women, that somehow men are incapable of being sentimental or emotional. Well, we are in luck since this Spanish film gives us a welcome glimpse into the lives of eight men in their 40s who are suffering some form of identity and/or relationship crisis.

It is presented in five different vignettes that exposes the deepest secrets, fantasies, emotions and sexual fears of these men. The execution of this concept is through several conversations which involve one or two of the eight men at any one time and through their dialogues, a series of details expose bit by bit their lives to some extent. Some details are implied, other facets are openly discussed. All shared with no qualms, no inhibitions and it seems as if they were not aware of any camera taping their conversations. It is that candid and the acting of the ensemble cast of credible Spanish actors is top notch.

Adultery, regret, lust, inadequacy and betrayal are some of the emotions showcased as the men show themselves as vulnerable and incapable of relating to intimacy or are poor at properly communicating their feelings.

The film has some engaging moments although some vignettes are more successful than its whole. Eventually, a party towards the ending reveals that these guys know each other in one way or another. As they socialize with each other, their innermost feelings are once again hidden and only the audience is aware of their flaws and their insecurities. And we are none the wiser for it!

Friday, September 19, 2014

POZITIA COPILULUI
(CHILD'S POSE)

(ROMANIA)
CINE EUROPA 17
Cinema 2, Shang CineplexI


First of all, I'd like to say I'm thankful for the annual run of Cine Europa for where else and how else would I be able to watch films from far flung European countries?

It is always fascinating and interesting to see films set in a foreign land as they convey the life and culture of its inhabitants and more often than not also essay sentiments which can either be totally alien or universally felt, no matter what part of the globe you inhabit.

For instance, this Romanian film dramatizes with good measure a mother's profound love for her son. Never mind that the son is a 34 year old good for nothing guy who runs over a child during a tragic car accident. Never mind that he has an estranged relationship with his mother Cornelia, a wealthy architect/interior designer who no doubt has a lot of connections and is willing to do anything to keep him from going to prison. 

Early on, the director goes to great lengths to establish that Cornelia is a power house in society. Her 60th birthday bash is attended by experts in various fields as well as the powerful hierarchy in local politics. It also shows her as being overbearing when it comes to meddling in the affairs of her son. Even though, they have a strained relationship, she asks the housekeeper snooping questions about her son's household. 

These details are neatly presented in long, theatrical scenes which is ably sustained by the lead actress portraying Cornelia. Luminita Gheorghiu gives a captivating performance as the determined mother willing to secure her son's innocence yet at the same time her overpowering nature smothers and paints her as a pitiable irritant that doesn't know when to back off. 

A pure acting filled movie devoid of any fancy background music (which can sometimes be annoying) - it can have the essence of a play but in this case it isn't boring to watch (I'm not saying that plays are boring, mind you!) and it echoes an authentic slice of deep humanity that can either fill you with warmth or with contempt.

Either way, it feels good!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

CASSE-TETE CHINOISE
(CHINESE PUZZLE)

(FRANCE)
CINE EUROPA 17
Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex


"Chinese Puzzle" is the final installment in a trilogy which began with  L'Auberge Espagnole" (Spanish apartment) in 2002 and was followed in 2005 by "Les Poupees Russe" (Russian Dolls).  

The common factor is Xavier (Roman Durius) who started as a college student sharing an apartment with other students in the first film which I saw back then. The second film (which I never saw) is obviously set in Russia and apparently focused on Xavier after he broke up with Martine (Audrey Tatou) and it is where his relationship with Wendy blooms. 

In this last film, Xavier decides to follow his kids whom his now ex-wife Wendy has decided to uproot back to her native land, America. He is a writer experiencing writer's block and the only apartment he can afford is located in the Chinatown part of New York. All the women he was previously involved with suddenly converging in New York, life for Xavier is pretty complex. As complicated as a Chinese puzzle.

The lightweight film is not without its charms and frustrations as well. It is charming to watch how devoted he is to his kids. On the other scheme of things, I wonder how he can afford to live in such an expensive place like New York on his meager writer's salary. 

It presents a nice microcosm of life in New York - the neighborhoods, the people (mostly his merry mix of diverse friends) and the different pulsating bits and pieces that make up the heart of the city that never sleeps. Even if I didn't see the second film and the first film is merely a blur to me now, it is easy to follow the story of Xavier as a dad navigating through his complex yet very bohemian life in New York.

A fitting end to a trilogy that gave us an unusual and multifaceted character Xavier - a funky, soulful French dude who is not physically attractive but is charming enough for us to get invested in his tangled life.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

JAGTEN
(THE HUNT)

(DENMARK)
CINE EUROPA 17
Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex


The title of this Danish film implies raw pursuit and violence which I'd have to add eventually does ensue in the middle part of the film. Yet it unfolds in a silent, creep.up.behind.you manner that although you expected it, it can be quite unnerving. Perhaps the idyllic background is to blame as it manages to shield your mind. The low key atmosphere of a small town, the silent snow as it envelops the scenery, and the simple nature of the life of its inhabitants. 

Lucas (Mads Mikkelson) is a teacher at a kindergarten going through a bad divorce and custody battle. He is content with his job and is sociable enough to have a good set of friends. His world is turned upside down when one of his pupils, 5 year old Klara accuses him of inappropriate behavior. 

The audience is immediately made aware that Klara is lying and is merely acting out her anger. But in a quick flash, Lucas' simple life is shattered - his friends turn their back on him, he is shunned in social gatherings with the whole town siding with the little girl solely on the premise that children never lie!

It is quite disturbing to watch as Lucas who enjoys shooting deer during weekends becomes a hunted man. A pariah in a society that is quick to judge without giving someone a chance to defend himself and proclaim his innocence. 

Throughout the entire incident, Klara doesn't fully comprehend what is happening and is protected from any form of scrutiny. Her single lie taking a life of its own, way beyond the normal parameters of good judgement. Unknowingly she herself becomes a victim just like Lucas.

As usual, Mads Mikkelsen is brilliant in his role as Lucas. His haunted, gaunt face really expressive as he struggles to maintain his innocence. And in the final yet pivotal scene where Lucas is shown in the woods during hunting season, it shows that he is stuck in a nightmare that never seems to end.  

"Jagten" was one of the 5 films nominated for the Best Foreign Language Picture in last year's Oscar awards. It lost to the Italian film "La Grande Belleza" about a man living a hedonistic lifestyle. But Denmark's entry rightfully deserved to be recognized as one of the best foreign films for 2014.
 

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