Friday, March 2, 2018

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell,
Woody Harrelson, Zeljko Ivanek

Another film that tackles grief yet in a completely different manner. Taking matters into her own hands, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards on the outskirts of a small town. She posts three provoking messages on them, all related to the unsolved murder case of her daughter and addressed to William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) the chief of police. A full year has past and they are nowhere near to arresting let alone finding any suspect in the brutal rape/slay case.

The whole town is aghast and everyone has a valid opinion on the controversial messages on the billboards. Meanwhile Mildred goes on with her usual routine yet a different side of her surfaces. An attitude prone to violent streaks yet understandably as it comes from sentiments of deep frustration,  certain feelings of guilt and self blame for what happened to her daughter.

This soulful movie is peppered with a believable cast led by the indefatigable Frances McDormand, the reliable Woody Harrelson and the solid delivery by Sam Rockwell was quite revealing. They all essay their roles with nuanced performances that hit you to the core. Their subtle acting style lead to their sympathetic characterization. They may be characters in a small town but their larger than life characters create quite an impact in this dark comedy. 

A movie that handles tragedy with a cleverly written script, a sharp dialogue and well acted by a formidable cast that just keeps on giving even though their characters are all deeply flawed. 

But it is these very flaws which make them genuinely human and this is where this film draws its strength. Truly award winning performances and 2 thumbs up for a job well done.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Collateral Beauty

Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet,
Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, 
Michael Pena,  Naomie Harris

"Connect to the Beauty of Life"

The film opens with Howard (Will Smith), the charismatic co-founder of a successful ad agency giving a pep talk to his team. He asks them "What is your why"? He replies "Time, Love and Death.  They connect with every person in this universe. We long for love. We wish we had more time.  And we fear death". Good points to ponder on.  

Three years later, we again see Howard but this time he has been reduced to an empty shell, a melancholic person wallowing in misery. Yet he has a good reason, he lost his 6 year old daughter to cancer. He still goes to the office but he doesn't talk to anyone, he just spends his days building mazes of dominoes which he eventually 'demolishes' and starts building them again. He hardly sleeps, goes out on his bike being reckless biking on the wrong side of the road. 

His 3 co-partners are worried about him, about the fate of the ad agency which isn't doing well so they resort to hiring actors at a local theater to 'stalk' Howard. This is brought about by 3 letters which Howard wrote to Time, Love and Death. His missives are mostly guilty stricken, longing for answers and deeply emotional letters. 

So Claire (Kate Winslet), Simon (Michael Pena) and Whit (Edward Norton) think the best way to salvage the agency is to prove that Howard is mentally unstable so they can sell the company to another media outfit.

The film is focused on Howard talking with these 3 actors named Rafi, Amy and Brigitte who have been assigned to tackle the persona of Time, Love and Death. 

Time (Jacob Latimore) is paired with Claire, a workaholic who may have wasted time by focusing too much on her career instead of starting a family. Love (Keira Knightley) is paired with Whit, a single dad who is trying to win back his daughter's love. While Death  (Helen Mirren) is handled by Simon, who hides his terminal illness from his family and friends.  In their encounters with Howard and their respective handlers, we see how their interaction slowly make an impact on their dispositions, and their overall attitude towards life.  

Howard also seeks the help of a counselling group whose goal is to help their members cope with grief after losing a child. The group is headed by Madeleine (Naomie Harris) a divorced mother whose daughter succumbed  to a rare form of cancer. At first, Howard is hesitant to join them but slowly inches his way into the group during his frequent 'run-ins' with Time, Love and Death.

Surprisingly, this movie flopped at the box office and the critics lambasted it. The presence of the strong cast could not salvage it but I liked the movie. It deals with profound grief which isn't an easy subject to tackle. Certainly, the plot had some loopholes like that unexpected twist towards the end but I think the cast more than made up for it  with their heartfelt delivery and strong performances.

Now allow me to venture a guess as to why this melancholic film didn't rate high with the critics. I believe it is because it was given the "Hollywood" treatment. Well this isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Yet in certain movies, it can completely ruin the story by veering too far off from the main message by throwing in too many distractions like unnecessary side plots. They tend to confuse complex with complicated and this doesn't bode well for any narrative, no matter how good the cast are. 

I reiterate though that I liked this emotional movie and was deeply touched by its essence.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Victoria and Abdul

Dame Judi Dench,  Ali Fazal,
Eddie Izzard

"An untold True Story of
a Queen and her best Friend"

The film begins with a disclaimer "based on true events ... mostly" so this should all put us at ease. The fact that the aging Queen Victoria, a cantankerous being in her old age suddenly regains her joie de vivre from her friendship with an Indian servant named Abdul Karim is really preposterous, come to think about it.

How in that day and age can a lowly servant develop a deep friendship with the ruler of many colonies? Even to this current time, the British monarchy is still bound with many protocols to merit a comfortable liaison with them. Even though the younger members of the monarchy seem to be more approachable, I believe they are still restricted and controlled by certain age old norms and traditions.

So anyway back to the film. We see an aged Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) who simply goes through her ceremonial tasks being terribly bored that she literally falls asleep.  Enter Abdul, a lowly prison clerk who is sent to the UK to present a ceremonial coin at the Golden Jubilee banquet for Queen Victoria, mostly because of his tall height. He was not to speak unless spoken to yet he manages to charm himself in the good graces of the Queen.  

Their interaction involves him teaching her to speak and write Urdu. He also becomes her confidante and  cheers her up with inspirational quotes when she is melancholic. It is a good, healthy platonic relationship yet naturally the staff and her family all disapprove and come up with sorts of scenarios to keep them apart.

Dame Judi Dench is a great thespian and her portrayal of Queen Victoria is spot on. Her acting is perfection.  Ali Fazal is a revelation and his role as the doe-eyed, optimistic "Munshi" (teacher) is heartwarming. Their platonic chemistry is palpable and they earn my praises for their believable and poignant performances. 

The cinematography is authentic with vast scenes of castles and the verdant English countryside. The costumes are befitting the era buoyed by a stunning set design. The plot veers towards racism and discrimination against a different culture, it was true to point as it was quite prevalent in that era. When imperialistic monarchs mastered the art of colonization.

Overall, it is an entertaining movie about an unusual friendship yet unfortunately it lacks a certain something. So much so that I suddenly miss all those wonderful  yet forlorn Ivory-Merchant movies of days gone by.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wonder Woman (2017)

Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, 
Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, 
Danny Huston, David Thewlis

"Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder."

I grew up watching Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman in the 1980s. A tough woman fighting crime and just doing good for mankind. I never knew about her back story, the who, the how and the why she was a superhero. Well considering that this was back in the days when google didn't exist so information wasn't readily available in one click. So I was really invested in this film because it explores her background and how she became a superhero. 

At a young age, Diana (Gal Gadot) was already quite fierce. The daughter of Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) an Amazon warrior and Zeus himself, she was of privilege stock. But this didn't keep her from watching other Amazon warriors practicing their warrior skills, led by her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). Their little paradise like world called Themyscira filled with only women is suddenly 'invaded' by German troops who were chasing an American pilot named Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). He just happens to be a spy and somehow thinks he can stop the German army from winning the war.

Having grown in an all female environment, Diana is both curious and intrigued with the pilot. But once he mentions about a war, she becomes more interested as she was raised to believe that Ares, an evil demigod is out to destroy the world so she decides to accompany Steve to find so called villain to stop his evil intentions.

She soon joins Steve in his fight to stop the Germans in developing an vital tool that will annihilate the entire opposing forces. For a woman and an Amazon warrior, she is quite fearless yet at the same time she displays a certain vulnerability that makes her quite an endearing character to root for. 

Gal Gadot is a mesmerizing figure to watch as Wonder Woman. She is quite beautiful and has this twinkle in her eyes that adds to her charismatic superhero image. The innocence as well as the bravery of Diana is well manifested by Gadot in her first leading role. Her chemistry with Chris Pine is believable enough for a romantic interest without resorting to silly love scenes which can sometimes just ruin the entire love story angle. She carries the entire film on her worthy shoulders and although there are certain flaws in her acting, we are all willing to let it slide as she is the Wonder Woman, after all.

The setting is the first World War so there are enough fight scenes befitting a conflict. Action sequences are also a plenty and they are all executed well. The plot develops at a good pace with the usual theme of good vs evil  prevalent in superhero movies with an unexpected twist that leads towards an exciting, action filled conclusion. 

An entertaining movie with just enough relevance and gravitas to elevate it above the other superheroes movies, that simply rely on bombastic computer generated effects to draw a  crowd.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Taron Egerton, Mark Strong, Colin Firth,
Julianne Moore, Halle Berry, Channing Tatum,
Edward Holcroft, Hanna Alstrom

"Reports of my Death have been
greatly Exaggerated"

Through some elaborate hacking scheme, the Kingsman headquarters is blown up along with the residences of some of its agents. Only Eggsy (Taron Egerton)) and Merlin (Mark Strong) are left to pick up the pieces.  This leads them to Kentucky where they discover Statesman, their American counterpart hidden inside a whiskey distillery. 

Much to their surprise, they also discover that Harry Hart (Colin Firth), who was Eggsy's mentor is still alive but suffers from severe amnesia due to the procedure that saved his life and was performed by agents of Statesman.

Both agencies combine to fight a common enemy, an organization known as The Golden Circle headed by  Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore). A megalomaniac out to control the illegal drugs trade. Her base is deep in the jungles of Cambodia and guarded by armed men and two vicious mechanical dog robots. The design of the place pays tribute to the 1950s with a big diner that reminds us of one of the venues at the Universal Studios amusement parks.

The first installment concentrated on the training of the new recruits of secret spy agency. It was an action filled, slick parody of the Bond movies. It was fast paced, peppered with multi-dimensional characters and the plot was interesting enough to grab your attention.

The sequel features an actual operation which involves many side plots, set in various locations like the stunning sequence in the Italian Alps. Big name stars like Halle Berry, Jeff Bridges and Channing Tatum are not used for their full potential. 

While villains like Poppy Adams and Agent Whiskey (Pedro Pascal) are reduced to caricatures which is a pity. Don't get me started on Elton John starring as himself in quite a ridiculous role, that was just plain silly and quite stupid. Eggsy is still charmingly portrayed by Taron Egerton but giving him a love interest in the persona of a Swedish princess with whom he has no chemistry at all is a major  flaw. 

It is still a good popcorn movie despite its glaring flaws. I do like the soundtrack as it features John Denver's songs so I can totally relate with Merlin! Hehe

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, 
Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, 
Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel,  Kurt Russell

"Anyone can Save the Galaxy once"

Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his 'gang' are back. Now they are officially the guardians of the galaxy battling all sorts of monsters and alien creatures to ensure the safety of the universe.

They are assigned to fight some creatures/beings on behalf of The Sovereign and after their job was accomplished, Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) steals some really important batteries so they again find themselves in trouble. 

In their escape though, they run into Ego (Kurt Russell) who turns out to be Peter's long lost father. Whoa!  Ego is a celestial being or a god but with a small 'g', has his own planet which looks like heaven. Yet something is a bit amiss with this dreamlike scenario and soon enough we find out what it is. 

There was a lot of hype about this sequel in terms of Peter finding his father. So most of the film is about Peter reconnecting with his father. It is like a long flashback until the true intentions of Ego is revealed. That turning point is when the film really regains its former glory. An intergalactic battle with much needed action sequences that thankfully wakes us up from our stupor.

But it has to be said that the case of the stolen batteries as the main plot is quite flimsy. A thin segue to the father - son reunion which didn't turn out to be a good one. I, for one didn't see it coming but perhaps it is because I was heavily medicated.

Nevertheless, the second installment is still fun to watch. Merry bunch of characters all acting true to form especially the cute lil twig, Groot. Irreverent dialogue and sarcastic jokes abound plus a good soundtrack of 70's songs works to add on the charm!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Monster Calls

Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver,
Felicity Jones,

"Stories are wild Creatures"

The other day, we returned from our Yuletide holidays and are all sick with the flu. So I'm staying in bed, fully medicated and to chill I decided to watch movies from the comfort of my sick laden bed.

For easy viewing, I picked this film thinking it was a simple coming of age flick but boy was I wrong! Not only is this visually stunning movie filled with significantly powerful messages, it deals with sensitive topics like illness, bullying, grief and death. Not what you'd expect from a children's book. But then aren't most stories from this genre really dark tales?

Young Connor has too much on his plate. An artistic loner, he is constantly bullied in school and when he comes home he has to watch his mother battle terminal cancer. He finds solace in the form of a giant yew tree which comes alive at a specific time and regales him with stories filed with wisdom that tackle some issues currently plaguing Connor's life.

I believe it is these stories which encourage Connor to face his so called demons even though he is too young to be stressed with these burdens. It is also necessary for him as he turns into a young adult and must be armed with enough (painful) experiences to face life.

I like the vivid animated scenes that are incorporated within the film. It adds a childlike wonder and it helps cushion against the dark elements of the stories. The cast performs very well, the dialogue is brilliant especially the haunting voiceover of Liam Nesson as the giant yew tree. It is a good combination of fantasy and realism that is both provocative and poignant. Highly recommended!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Key House Mirror

3rd Danish Film Festival
Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex

Lily and Max live in a nursing home. Max suffered a stroke and is mostly bed ridden from his paralysis. Lily, the ever faithful wife also lives in the same facility in a nicely furnished room, complete with a TV and a receiving area. When I first saw this setup, I was impressed as I know that health care in Scandinavian countries are highly subsidized by the government.

So while Lily is the only fit person in the facility, she does follow a daily routine of taking care of her husband. But it really isn't much as there are staff to do all the 'heavy lifting' so to speak when it comes to providing adequate health care. So she does have time to go for walks, feeding some ducks on a pond and also play bingo and join in other fun activities at the facility.

Lily soon takes a liking to a new occupant across her unit, a charismatic fellow named Erik. He is a former pilot and currently suffering from Parkinson's Disease. Much to the chagrin of the other senior citizens, Lily and Erik develop a romantic (and sexual) relationship. Lily 'justifies' by saying that Max was never the passionate type so at this stage in her life, she feels she has the 'right' to satisfy her needs.

Things get complicated when Lily gets stubborn and insist on traveling to Paris with Erik to fulfill her bucket list. By this time, she has been diagnosed with dementia so it is really heartbreaking to watch. A point of contention is when she argues with her daughter and begs her to take her home but her only offspring thinks it is too much of an inconvenience for them.

I was shocked as I was raised in a culture where we don't shuttle off our parents to a nursing home when their fragile and frail bodies need medical attention. Having said that, I do understand how 'convenient' it can be to have old people live in a facility where their medical needs can be totally cared for by duly trained medical staff.  Well I guess it is also convenient if health care was 'free' so that would really give one peace of mind knowing that they get the care they deserve during their twilight years.

Films dealing with senior citizens really touch me to the core and I get highly emotional watching them. The realistically poignant acting performances of the actors did tug at my heartstrings. I remember watching the lead female star in another poignant film dealing with euthanasia in last year's Silent Heart.  In this film,  her delivery is on point. So even though the pacing and the story line could do with some editing, I went home thinking I should give my parents, several tight hugs.

The title is derived from the three words (Key House Mirror) which Lily had to remember during a memory test performed by a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, she couldn't recall them. :(

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Commune

3rd Danish Film Festival
Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex

1975, Erik inherits a huge house upon the death of his father, his wife Anna decides it would be a good idea to turn it into a commune. A motley crew of random people are interviewed and soon they become inhabitants of this suburban Copenhagen house. To keep things in order, they each are given chores to do within the house and every evening they 'report' about their daily activities. In short, they share everything.

Things are going well until Erik (an architecture professor) begins an affair with one of his students. After he was caught by his 14 year old daughter, he tells his wife about it but instead of kicking him out of the commune, she invites the younger woman to come live with them. Perhaps she didn't want any scandal given that she is known TV broadcaster yet it is at that precise point that the film starts to stagger. 

The mental and emotional toll on Anna is painful to watch yet it is quite realistically portrayed by the Danish actress. Trying desperately to keep a stoic facade yet slowly spiraling out of control is a difficult role for any actress to imbibe. She did a good job and is the main draw of the film.

It is to be said that only a Danish film can do justice to this controversial setup that was quite common in that Scandinavian country during the early 1970s. I always thought of people from Denmark as free spirited people and this film just proves my point.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Foreigner

Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan

"Never push a Good man too far"

Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex

It's my birthday and I'll watch a film if I want to ... so I did. Having said that, I am not a big Jackie Chan fan but among the films showing today, it held the most potential to satisfy my movie craving.

The film kicks off with an act of terrorism, a bombing at a local bank which cost the lives of 12 people. Among the fatalities is Fan, a teenager who was at an adjacent dress store picking out her gown for a prom. Her father Quan (Jackie Chan) is heartbroken and naturally distraught. He keeps hounding the local police for more details about the perpetrators of this horrific crime. When weeks past and Quan is still seeking answers as well as justice for his daughter, his next focus for constant harassment is a local politician named Liam Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) whose past affiliations may hold the key to the identities of the suspects. 

An older Jackie Chan and dare I say much wiser as lately his roles are more mature and he is not just a 'ninja' who karate chops all the villains. Quan is a multi-dimensional character whose troubled past add much depth and further cements our understanding of why he would go to great lengths to 'capture' the terrorists responsible for his daughter's untimely demise. Naturally there are still some nicely choreographed action scenes courtesy of Chan who we all know does his own stunts in all his films. 

But beyond all the necessary stunts, the plot revolves around a believable political thriller. The IRA and British government 'negotiations' and the behind the scenes concessions and demands from both sides to aim for a lasting and peaceful solution - provides a good backdrop - so it goes beyond just another predictable father.seeking.justice.and.revenge.for.his.slain.daughter premise. Pierce Brosnan is as Irish as one can get so his role was appropriate for his age, his stature and his craft.

A good blend of action and political thriller with a few twists thrown into the mix makes "The Foreigner" an entertainingly good film!

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