Friday, December 14, 2018

1001 Grams

Cine Europa 2018
Shangri-la Cinemas


From Norway comes a quirky and delicate love story between Nordic Marie and French Pi. Marie is a scientist who specializes in measurements. Her daily routine is going to work, conversing with her father who is a colleague at work and having meals alone at home. 

Her father Ernst is the one who brings the national kilo of Norway to Paris, France for some annual gathering of other like minded individuals for a conference on weights. When her father succumbs to a fatal heart attack, Marie is the one assigned to attend the Paris symposium. 

Marie strikes as a lonely, taciturn woman whose whole world revolves on her work and her close relationship with her father. There are hints/scenes of a ex husband/boyfriend moving out of their apartment although they never exchange any pleasantries. So Paris provides a welcome break from her routine as well as her grief upon the sudden loss of her beloved dad.

She meets Pi, a French professor/scientist who also volunteers at the institute where the weights are measured. They hit it off as she speaks a fairly good amount of French and an unlikely romance between them. 

Pristine cinematography invades our senses with great Nordic scenery, French countryside where the seminar is held  as well as the quaint little streets of Paris.  Never in my wildest imagination did I think that there is a whole industry devoted to the actual weight of a kilo, fascinating science stuff indeed. Dialogue is in Norwegian, English and French with English subtitles. 

It is a delightful art movie that tackles disappointment, grief and love in an unusual place for two less lonely people in the world. 

P.S.
1001 grams refers to the weight of the cremated ashes of Marie's father. An eerie yet interesting thought. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Vizsga (The Exam)

Cine Europa 2018
Edsa Shangri-la Cineplex

"Don't trust Anyone. Don't trust Yourself"


This 2011 Hungarian movie is set in 1957, Budapest. A period of uncertainty as the loyalty of every National Security officer is tested. Andras Jung is a young ambitious cultural NS officer disguising as a teacher who teaches German. In all eventuality, he is a government spy who gathers information and forwards it to his immediate superior, Marko. The older spy is a war hero and famous in the espionage industry. 

Marko is tasked to test Jung's loyalty so he clandestinely monitors his 'pupil' from the opposite building. Hidden hearing devices are planted, cloak and dagger tactics are employed - anything to prove Jung is a faithful and reliable agent.

The film is in the Hungarian language so the words are totally foreign to me. The spy game plays out well in the movie but for all intents and purposes, the filming shows an amateur streak. The cast are believable in portraying spies. The narrative gets murky when you lose sight of who is actually spying on whom. 

Yet the film succeeds in exploring the travails of a communist country (Hungary) in the dark era of the Cold War. A very volatile period for the espionage sector as the leaders are paranoid and need absolute loyalty from the members of the national security community. The Cold War is a sad period in Europe's rich history, it was plagued with violations of human rights, extreme poverty, a strong totalitarian government and no equal opportunities for all.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

(Todos lo Saben)
Everybody Knows

Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem,
Ricardo Darin

"Who did iT??"


Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) presents a crime drama in the Spanish language with real life couple Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in the lead roles. A tale of secrets and revelations + all the necessary ingredients of a whodunit saga.

Laura (Penelope Cruz) living in Buenos Aires returns to her hometown near Madrid with her two children  to attend the wedding of her sister, Ana. It is a typical small Spanish town where everybody knows of each other. A town rife with intriguing whispers and gossips which is a typical mentality among the local folks. On the night of the wedding, Irene the teenage daughter of Laura goes missing.

Frantic and panicking, Laura is distraught and seeks the help of the family's close friend, Paco (her former childhood sweetheart) who is now married to Bea, a teacher. She also contacts her husband, Alejandro (Ricardo Darin) in Argentina to inform him about the abduction. The entire family is drawn into this disturbing incident and try to come up with answers without causing a scene as Laura is told not to inform the police.

Mostly shot in dark tones with night scenes and dimly lit rooms, Everybody Knows runs like a typical Spanish telenovela, except this is a full length film. Multiple characters, most of them Laura's extended family make up the cast composed of top actors and actresses in the Spanish film industry. Headed by Penelope Cruz who gives Laura, much depth. She just gets better as she ages like fine wine. Javier Bardem as Paco is credible. He nails the characterization of a conflicted yet well meaning person with gusto. Ricardo Darin as Alejandro is more subdued as his character is dealing with her personal demons.

The revelation of closely guarded secrets, the intriguing nature of the disappearance all played out well in the narrative. But the quick 'resolution' of the main crisis in the plot seemed forced. It felt like Farhadi did not thoroughly think this part through so he snapped his fingers and decided it needed to end, just like that. Nope it has nothing to do with being lost in the translation, I have watched enough Spanish movies to be more or less familiar with the language. It is a watchable crime drama as the cast perform well but the strained plot change and the contrived ending are burdensome.

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Simple Favor

Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively,
Henry Golding

"We all have Secrets to Hide"


The film starts with Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) recording her parenting vlog where she also mentions that her best friend Emily (Blake Lively) has been missing for several days. Then it pans to how Stephanie and Emily became the best of friends.

Emily and Stephanie are contrasting figures yet they somehow click with their young sons as their common factor. Single parent Stephanie is a typical Suburban blogger mom, a know it all who lives off the life insurance of her dead husband, while Emily is a glamorous PR person for a designer and married to Sean Townsend (Henry Golding) a British who travels a lot.

The 'disappearance' of Emily is an integral part of the film. In trying to solve it, Stephanie unearthed betrayals, secrets, revelations, revenge and murder - all enough to spiral terribly out of control with the use of her vlog as a vital tool.

All these twists and turns come at a controllable pace, some easy to grasp while others need some figuring out, even as the complex characters need to come up for oxygen every now and then to maintain balance. The setting are suburban chic and modern bungalows, a quaint lake side town which all contribute to a stylish film noir atmosphere. 

The cast do well especially Anna Kendrick as the self effacing Stephanie who does have a secret or two buried in her own murky past. Blake Lively is fashionable as always and can hold her own against the very talented Anna Kendrick. As to Henry Golding, well he is still va va voom!

Overall, it was just an okay mix match of drama, thriller with light comedy. Nothing extraordinary yet not just ordinary either, if that makes sense.

Monday, November 19, 2018

The Wife

Glenn Close, Jonathan Pryce
Christian Slater, Harry Lloyd, Annie Starke

"Secrets lie behind the Lines"


I desperately needed another movie to activate my brain cells to get over Keanu Reeves' irritating gurgling sounds in Destination Wedding. Boy, did my brain cells work on overtime from seeing Glenn Close in The Wife. 

Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) is the the faithful wife of Joseph Castleman (Jonathan Pryce) a writer who was just informed,  he won the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature. Stockholm then becomes the locale where their seemingly perfect marriage reveal some cracks which start to fizzle their stable bond. 

Joan is the obedient wife, always anticipating her husband's needs from making sure he takes his pills on time to signaling him when he has something on his beard. They are a good tandem as Joe revels from all the attention while Joan stays in the background. The film establishes right away that the Castlemans are a solid couple. Joseph is egotistical almost to the point of being righteously critical while Joan passively and diligently does her duties as expected of her.

The movie also interjects flashbacks - how they first met, his flirty behavior towards members of the opposite sex to their struggles as his writing career slowly succeeds. These scenes reveal a lot about the personality of the characters, how their past molded them to be the people we see now in Stockholm. The dramatic flares intensify midway, where a somewhat predictable revelation implodes then leads to the climatic conclusion. 

Glenn Close is a true artist. In a pivotal scene where Joan reaches her boiling point - her facial expressions, her body language, her range and her bravura - was flawless. A very good defining moment for the long suffering, neglected wife. Jonathan Pryce was equally a good sparing partner, so to speak. His contemptuous and complex character was not entirely beyond reproach, he did have a few redeeming qualities so it wasn't a total lost of a human being. 

The film offers good insights about married life, infidelity, moral values and humanity. Over and above the film's shortcomings, I recommend it for Glenn Close's stellar performance as Joan Castleman, The Wife.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Destination Wedding (2018)

Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves

"Check your Baggage"


Frank (Keanu Reeves) and Lindsay (Winona Ryder), two strangers on their way to a destination wedding collide with each other through constant bickering over anything and everything. 

Frank is the brother of the groom, while Lindsay was the ex-gf of the groom even though they both don't seem to be close to either of the marrying couple. It is never explained why Frank and Lindsay were invited, at all. Always bitter and highly egotistical, these two strangers have a lot more in common than they care to admit to themselves and to each other. 

"Before Sunrise" - it is definitely NOT even though it seems to copy the Richard Linklater masterpiece. This is the most dialogue I have seen Keanu Reeves deliver in his entire career. Heh. While Winona Ryder has aged well and tries her best to keep up with the pacing of both the dialogue of Keanu as well as the slow progress of the story line. She gets an A+ for her effort. I can only cringe at the thought of poor Winona putting up with Keanu's character irritating  and really disgusting gurgling sounds. Oy!

The setting of the film in wine county is lovely and certainly didn't add any of its charm to this highly disappointing reunion of Ryder and Reeves. Perhaps in some distant future, they can get together in an action film instead of a trying hard 'intellectual' romantic comedy. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

La Cordillera (The Summit)

Pelicula 2018
Spanish Film Festival
Greenbelt 3 Cinemas


A mountain resort in the picturesque Andes mountains in Chile is the setting for a summit of Latin American leaders. The main topic is the establishment of an OPEC like organization consisting of Latin American nations. 

The central character is Hernan Blanco, (Ricardo Darin) the newly elected president of Argentina who is attending his first summit meeting. Blanco, a former mayor of a small town is hailed as the leader of the common man. His low profile at the summit is being questioned by a critic in a radio show commentary who belittles Blanco's capability as a leader. 

A few minutes before they board the presidential plane, his staff receives news of problems on the personal front. His daughter Marina is distraught and insists she had no idea about the expose from her ex husband, who plans to reveal Blanco's previous corrupt practices. The president decides Marina should join him at the summit so he can keep an eye on her already frayed nerves. 

Ricardo Darin (Truman) is very credible as the plagued Blanco. As president, he maintains a calm almost stoic demeanor in the wheeling and dealing of diplomacy. There is a specific scene with Christian Slater as a high level State Department official in a clandestine meeting with President Blanco. In this shot, Blanco listens as usual, the imperialistic U.S. wants to act as 'consultant' to the proposed organization. Towards the end of the meeting, Blanco negotiates for what he believes will be beneficial to Argentina. Whether this is good or not is beside the point, I think this establishes Blanco as a certified negotiator/leader.

As a father, he is concerned, strong and decisive for his troubled daughter. He even agrees to a series of hypnotherapy sessions for Marina which reveals certain ambiguities. Whether those past events are true or merely a figment of Marina's complex imagination - are never fully explored. A side plot which could perhaps better explain why Marina is really messed up. 

So except for those intriguing hypnosis revelations which were left unanswered, the film does a good job in presenting international relations among world leaders. The breathtaking Andes mountain range providing an icy background to an engaging political drama.

Friday, October 5, 2018

El Autor (The Motive)

Pelicula 2018
Spanish Film Festival
Greenbelt 3 Cinemas


Alvaro is a notary in a law firm, a really monotonously boring job. His real passion though is to write a novel, something he calls 'real literature' as opposed to best selling book written by his wife, Amanda. In fact, he is very serious, Alvaro has even taken up writing lessons in a class taught by an over critical instructor.

Alvaro's life goes from sad to pathetic. He leaves his wife after she is caught cheating with a co-worker + he is put on forced leave after his work suffers from his erratic behavior. He moves into a new apartment, and now has a lot of time to concentrate on his novel.

His main problem is he doesn't have a fertile imagination so upon the advice of his teacher to roll up his sleeves and search for stories in the real world - he decides to eavesdrop on the lives of his neighbors in his new apartment block. He makes them the subject of his novella, going as far as manipulating and orchestrating their lives to make them more interesting characters for his book.

It is set in Seville, Spain with shots mostly within the confines of Alvaro's spartan and sparsely decorated apartment in bright almost blinding scenes. This is perhaps in contrast to the sudden influx of ideas that flood Alvaro's mind.

The creepy tone of the lead character, with his obsessive, stalker like tendencies as well as the dramatic phasing of the plot add some intensity to an otherwise predictable narrative. With a good premise and the exemplary acting of Javier Gutierrez as Alvaro, The Motive is a well made dark comedy.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Josh Brolin, Benicio del Toro,
Isabela Moner, Jeffrey Donovan, Catherine Keener

"No Rules this Time"


The sequel to this crime thriller once again tackles the drugs war on the U.S - Mexico border. Fed agent Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and 'consultant' Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) are back to continue the fight against the Mexican cartels.  Drug lords who not only peddle drugs but also resort to human trafficking and acts of terrorism on both sides of the border. The task force devise a plan to mess up the cartels but when it backfires, all hell breaks loose. Each of them basically on their own to sort out their own mess.

Sicario which was released in 2015 got a lot of raves for the way it was filmed. Emily Blunt was very credible as the small town FBI agent who was recruited by the task force. In this sequel though, she is not part of the team, no mention whatsoever about her character. This is fine as the Brolin - del Toro tandem still work well together without the distracting presence of a lead female character.

I liked Sicario (2015) and this sequel although with a few dragging parts was equally good in my book. We all know about the cartels running the show vis a vis the peddling of drugs through shows like Narcos on Netflix. But Sicario: Day of the Soldado offers a different perspective, as shown through the eyes of this special task force. An operation so covert, the U.S government denies of its existence, as usual. 

The film still retains its gritty, suspenseful tone with enough action sequences to keep you on the edge of your seat. I believe there was more depth in this narrative, as seen through the eyes of the young Isabel Reyes. An unfortunate pawn in this dangerously ugly and menacing drugs war.

The ending hints at a third Sicario in the making but it should remain true to form and present an alternative perspective (one that is not redundant and repetitive), then maybe, just maybe it would be worth waiting for. If not, perhaps it would be a good time to let agent Matt Graver and Alejandro rest from their stressful job.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

Henry Golding, Constance Wu, 
Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan

"The only Thing crazier than Love is Family"


I had no idea nor was I aware this movie was based on a popular novel by Kevin Kwan, a Singaporean author now based in the US. Everyone (by everyone I meant the critics and the mainstream media) was raving about it being a first since it was a Hollywood made film with an all Asian cast. 

Well, naturally the roles would be enacted by Asian actors, right? Long gone are the days when white actors would color their faces with black shoe polish to portray African Americans or white actresses would have their eyes made up to look Asian. 

The premise of poor girl meets rich boy and live happily ever after has been done various times in movies and plays all over the world. Nothing new really. So in Crazy Rich Asians, you have all the cliches - rich future mother-in-law disapproving of poor girlfriend, society (mis)judging the stature of the girlfriend of the most eligible bachelor in town, poor girl feels out of place etc etc etc.

Yet one thing stands out imho - that is the rich bachelor Nick Young remains humble and does not boast about his wealth. He may have not told Rachel (Constance Wu)  about his background but this goes to show, it did not define him. He was living in the US, had no interest in maintaining the family business, he just happen to be in town for the wedding of his best friend. In short, he is a cool dude and it doesn't hurt that he is portrayed by Henry Golding (not an Asian name, at all) who is va va voom handsome, dear Lord! 

I like the feisty spirit of Rachel. She remains true to herself and won't let her lack of stature defeat her. Sure she will be sad and feel betrayed but she is a brilliant scientist and an economics professor - that is more than just 'good enough'. 

The rest of the cast do good. They are tailor fit for their roles especially Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young, the mother of va va voom. Her conceited gaze, her regal bearing, calm yet menacing demeanor was spot on. This former Bond girl is aging really well, I'd say.

The author meant this film to be an expose (I may be wrong) on how the rich treat the 'poor' members of society as being less worthy. But for me that whole rich vs poor premise is pretty lame. Of course, the rich will look down on the poor, it happens anywhere and every time in any part of the world. 

It shouldn't be an issue let alone be the whole theme for a movie which took itself too seriously. Yes it is a Hollywood movie with an Asian narrative and cast but it should not restrict itself from being a good film. And gratefully, it was a well made fun, dramatic, romcom which should be proud and stand on its own merits.
 

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