Monday, January 28, 2019

The Favourite

Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman,
Emma Stone

"Loosely based on real Events"


The Favourite should be lauded for having three strong female characters yet having said that the open ended conclusion leaves so much to be desired. I read it is the style of director Yorgos Lanthimos to have vague endings in most of his film so he stayed true to form. Okay I am jumping the gun, pardon me. 

It is set in early 18th century during the reign of a very weak Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). She is assisted (in more ways than one) by her close friend, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) who basically runs the country. A period when England is in a very costly war with France and the peasants are getting restless. 

Enter Abigail (Emma Stone) who happens to be Lady Sarah's cousin who has fallen on hard times. She is employed as a servant yet as she endears herself to Lady Sarah, she is 'promoted' to I guess, a personal assistant. Abigail is fiercely determined and uses her new role to ingratiate herself to the Queen and won't stop until she regains her aristocratic status.

The conniving, the treachery, the jealousy and the malicious mischief that arises between these three female characters is wicked yet quite entertaining. The costume design of that century is well represented and the locales are depicted in vast mansions and castles, even the design of the gaudy interiors is realistically enhanced.

Olivia Colman did justice to her role as the frail Queen Anne. She is deteriorating before our eyes, her mood swings are scary and her dark past is hauntingly piercing in the form of 17 rabbits in her bedroom. 

Rachel Weisz has always been a steady actress and as Lady Sarah, she is in her elements. There are questions about Lady Sarah's main intentions towards the Queen. Did she mean well and cared as a true friend, or did she have vested interests in maintaining the status quo in the country? I'd say she was honest, deeply loyal and boldly dedicated to both her country and to the Queen.

It is really refreshing to watch Emma Stone. As the supposedly meek yet cunning Abigail, she was detestable. We hate her, despise what she stands for and reviles the methods she used to ingratiate herself to the Queen.

My thoughts on the ending: the three characters are exactly where they are supposed to be and it is far too late in the game to steer away from their current miserable situations. The Queen is trapped, not just physically but also mentally isolated. Lady Sarah is exiled or maybe even jailed for ruining the country and Abigail, well judging from that sly smile on her face, she realizes she will always be a parasite, an organism that depends on its host to survive. As for the rabbits, they are symbolic of the Queen's agony as well as the supposedly innocent characteristic of Abigail. Cute and cuddly yet sly and crafty because we all know the saying about rabbits, don't we? 

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Green Book

Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali

"Inspired by a True Friendship"


Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) is a rough bouncer at a nightclub which closes for renovations. He is then hired by Dr Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) as his chauffeur. The classical pianist and his band are embarking on a tour in venues in the deep South. The setting is in the 1960s when racial segregation is still very much the norm. Armed with the Green Book, a 'travel guide' which lists places/hotels where African Americans are accepted, they venture on a journey of self discovery that leads to their life long friendship.

The plot tackles racial segregation in its raw form. The 1960s was a very difficult era for African Americans and the mere fact that somebody had the temerity to come up with a green book is mind boggling to me. A sad yet interesting fact I only discovered by watching this film. This biopic presents an authentic portrayal of the period. It didn't matter that Dr. Shirley was a learned classical pianist who could speak several languages, the mere color of his skin was met with a lot of bigotry in the Southern part of the country. 

Tony Lip was quite an interesting character. A street smart Italian American living in the Bronx, he himself was kind of a bigot. But I'd say, his hatred stems mostly from ignorance or not knowing any better. By the way, he got his moniker because he could talk his way out of any kind of trouble. His tough stance came in handy when Dr. Shirley faced many forms of discrimination during the tour. Viggo Mortensen's performance was excellent, he truly imbibed his character.

Mahershala Ali from the House of Cards, Moonlight and the current True Detective series on HBO was great. His characterization of Dr. Shirley was spot on - from his deep voice delivering dialogue clearly, his strong screen presence, his finesse, his wisdom and his humility despite being a great pianist - it was very well acted.

I love this movie as it explores how two complete opposite individuals who come from different backgrounds forge a deep friendship based on respect, admiration and tolerance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Widows

Viola Davis, Liam Neeson,
Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki,
Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell

"Left with Nothing. Capable of Anything"


The title refers to 4 women whose husbands perished after their heist goes wrong. Veronica (Viola Davis) who was married to Harry (Liam Neeson) the leader of the criminal gang is hounded by a menacing local thug who claims that Harry stole their money. Desperate to get rid of the debt, she gathers the other widows and decide to do Harry's "next job".

The plan is clear as day yet do these women even have the capabilities to pull it off? Veronica is a union rep for a teachers association, Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) doesn't even know how to drive, Linda (Michelle Rodriguez) owns a bridal shop and Belle (not really part of the "widows club") is a hair dresser. To answer the question: Absolutely not.

Set in present day Chicago, a local election mired with corruption, bribery and dirty campaign tactics provides a weak backdrop. The film drags on with several subplots. The main story line is marred with inconsistent twists which lost the element of surprise so it all falls flat. 

Widows could have been a good movie. Yet the 'robbery' came in quite late in the sequence of events and also quite fast (it was over in 5-8 minutes) that by then you simply lose interest. Unfortunately, the ensemble cast consisting of talented actors like Viola Davis, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall and Liam Neeson couldn't salvage this average heist film.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, 
Rebecca Ferguson, Alec Baldwin,
Simon Pegg, Vhing Rhames

"Some Missions are Not a Choice"


It doesn't hurt to add in an action filled feature to maintain a balanced viewing habit. The Mission: Impossible franchise is always a good choice when it comes to fast paced action stunts, car chases, panoramic locales + a complex plot to keep it all together.

Fallout is the 6th film in the franchise and it continues 2 years after the capture of Solomon Lane. His organization known as the Syndicate have regrouped and now call themselves the Apostles headed by a mysterious arms dealer named John Lark. Their nefarious plan is to use three plutonium cores to simultaneously attack holy sites like the Vatican, Jerusalem and Mecca in Saudi Arabia. 

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team were first assigned to recover the plutonium cores yet fail in their mission. They are joined by August Walker (Henry Cavill) a CIA trained operative as they travel all over the world to recover the cores and prevent those disastrous attacks. What seemed like a simple recovery operation turns into time consuming hunt for the dangerous terrorists who are always a step ahead of the team. 

I read numerous articles on Tom Cruise (who does most, if not all of his own stunts) suffering a serious leg injury while filming a scene in Paris. There were indeed many well choreographed stunts in this film from running on roof tops, flying a helicopter through the snow capped mountain ranges to BMW car chases in the streets of Paris, France.

M:I- Fallout has all the right ingredients of a good film - action packed sequences, good directing, a clever and credible story line, great cinematography, neat editing and an ensemble cast who by now can play their multi-dimensional characters with their eyes closed. 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bird Box

Netflix

Sandra Bullock, John Malcovich,
Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver

"Never lose Sight of Survival"


My first post in 2019 tackles a genre which I rarely watch - horror movies. But a controversial meme where people mimic the characters in Bird Box got me curious so watch, I did. I log in to my rarely used Netflix account and try to absorb the narrative without the need to close my eyes because I scare, easily.

Malorie (Sandra Bullock) is a pregnant artist/painter who isn't really the maternal type.  Her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) drives them home after a pre-natal check up. Suddenly Jessica acts weird, starts calling out for their mom, runs out of the car and straight into the path of an incoming truck. 

The stage is set for this post apocalyptic world where the key to survival is to blindfold your eyes when you go out to avoid seeing some strange force which makes you kill yourself.

After sharing a house with some strangers who eventually turn on each other, Malorie decides to venture out with two young kids (one of them is her now 5 year old son) to a sanctuary. The only problem is they need to take a small boat and navigate perilous waters on a lake to reach it, blindfolded. The vital ingredient on the boat is a tiny box with two small birds thus Bird Box. Apparently, birds can sense them and would chirp incessantly to signal the presence of these mysteriously deadly 'forces'.

Aside from gory scenes of chaos and people killing themselves, the tone of the movie was not a.there.is.a.monster.killing.humans type of scary. It was mostly psychological as they are dealing with something which nobody understands what triggered it nor how long it would last and why it is spreading throughout the entire universe. There were several scenes which were dragging. A couple of jaw dropping intense sequences on the lake when they reach the shooting rapids. A far fetched scenario to say the least, as she had to course through it, blindfolded. 

Bird Box had mostly tolerable scenarios with only a few engaging parts. No clear answers are provided and this truly disappointed my curiosity. Except for some gory scenes of mayhem, it wasn't as scary as I thought it would be so I know I won't have any nightmares to interrupt my sleep, tonight.

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.