Tuesday, May 30, 2006

X MEN 3: THE LAST STAND

Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Romijn, Anna Paquin, Kelsey Grammar, Ben Foster, Shawn Ashmore, Vinnie Jones, James Marsden

"Take a Stand"

Cinema 1, Edsa Shang Cineplex

The cure

I've never been a fan of any comics characters. The only reason I watch movies about them is to be entertained. I sure got my wish.
Adrenaline pumping action from beginning to end. Great CGI enhancements aside the plot was pretty lame and very cartoonish.
A whole bunch of mutants coming out of the wood works trying to tug at my heart strings. Sorry I couldn't really keep up with who was who and what superpowers his mutant gene could administer. Then some of the central characters started dying early on in the movie and I go ok at least that is a bit realistic. Not even their superpowers could save them from death. Although it was rather predictable that those 'dead' mutants will be back in some yet to be made movie in this X Men franchise, so no tears are worth shedding. I admit I saw the first X Men movie and thought "Ah that was a total waste of my time". I saw this third installment before I watched the second one which I borrowed from the video store. The second X Men seem to have more character development and more depth and dare I say more soul. But they are still filled with characters I do not find endearing at all. But as I've stated earlier, it was enjoyable to watch a film where my brain cells won't do any thinking. Just happy to amuse myself with the kick ass action scenes, brilliant visual scenes, colorful mutant costumes. I tried to channel my inner child but my problem is even as a child I wasn't into cartoons nor comics. So heck whatever.
After all, I'm not really the appropriate person to review this genre of movies. So just watch it, relax, chill and try not to get deaf from the heart pumping, high adrenaline rush!

Monday, May 29, 2006

HUSBANDS & WIVES
Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Judy Davis, Sydney Pollack, Liam Nesson, Juliette Lewis

HBO

Change is what life is made of!

This story about how marriages evolve and/or fail has all the elements of a typical Woody Allen movie.
Good ensemble cast who all deliver believable performances. Judy Davis, Sydney Pollack, Mia Farrow and a rather young Liam Nesson - all good actors in every sense of the word. A fluid story line about a topic that anyone can identify with. In this case, marriages/relationships. Woody Allen dissects the very core of what makes relationships work or fail. He presents it to us in different forms and scenarios in this film. Immaturity, temptation, seduction, unhappiness do contribute to marriages falling apart. As always, the beauty is in his witty, sardonic dialogue.
His ability to come up with lines like "See, I will always have this penchant for what I call kamikaze women. I call them kamikazes because they, you know they crash their plane, they're self-destructive. But they crash into you, and you die along with them." is a stroke of masterful sarcasm.
His ability to delve into a long psychoanalysis of the main topics has always drawn me towards his films. His neurotic insecurities bordering on paranoia make his films quite interesting to watch.
A few things to mention though in this movie, technique wise. He would cross between interviewing his main characters (actually talking to them) then shift to focus back to the story. That came across as a bit scattered. His abrupt way of moving his camera from one character to another would get you dizzy as you try to refocus on the screen.
But nonetheless, I could go on and on extolling the virtues of a Woody Allen film. But I won't. I'll just suggest you watch "Husbands and Wives" for its typical Woody Allen witty charm. You won't be disappointed, at all.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

THE DA VINCI CODE
Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, Jean Reno, Alfred Molina, Etienne Chicot, Jurgen Prochnow

Cinema 3, Edsa Shang Cineplex

"Seek the Truth"

DVC

I precisely waited for the second week of this film's run at the cinemas so I could watch it without much distraction. Despite the bad reviews I've read about this film, I think it was pretty good. I won't recount the story anymore, I'm pretty sure everyone has read Dan Brown's book.
Instead I will focus on the 'technical' aspects. Certainly any director can't go wrong if the locations in this film are well established places of great historical significance. The Louvre in Paris, the City of Lights. The Villette Chateau, The Temple church in London and the mountain top Rosslyn Chapel in scenic Scotland. Ron Howard was fortunate enough to be given permission to shoot at these historical locales. Although in the movie itself, he didn't publicly identify some of the places like for example, neither actors specifically mentioned that Rosslyn Chapel was in Scotland.
His masterful direction of showing the flashback scenes in black and white or in a yellowish hue to imply a dated/ancient view of events was a neat trick. The way Howard interposed the flashback scenes in the same frame as the modern scenes are clearly clever shots. He also noticeably focuses his camera on tiny details. I am a very visual oriented and observant person so I like it when directors provide these details on the screen. Shots of zooming in on the numbers on the cobblestones, the powerpoint presentation of the various symbols, the ancient paintings at the Louvre, the raw wounds on Silas's back, the close up shots of the main characters, even the way that Sophie Neveu drove in reverse across that narrow street - they all contribute to make the movie a visual treat. My favorite visual part is towards the end of the movie. The scene where Robert Langdon cuts himself shaving. His blood stain on the sink forms into a sword shape pointing downwards. In that precise moment, Langdon has his epiphany and rushes out of his hotel room towards the Pyramid structure in front of the Louvre. Hans Zimmer's musical score blaring a bit too loud to heighten the suspense factor in that scene was a pivotal point in the movie.
The casting for the movie was alright. Ian McKellan was a convincing Leigh Teabing. His well enunciated eloquence was vital while he explained the hidden mystery behind "the Last Supper" and "the Mona Lisa". His use of a computer generated interface to prop up his narrative made it more understandable. Paul Bettany as the menacing albino monk, Silas could have done with some more exposure. In the book we know that he had a pretty rough life but joining the Opus Dei saved his soul thus he became a loyal follower of this religious sect. Maybe the producers didn't want to focus too much on an albino being cast as a villain and also didn't want to incur the wrath of the Opus Dei. Alfred Molina as Bishop Aringarosa also needed to be fleshed out more. His portrayal as the very powerful Aringarosa was bland and a bit flat. But again I believe the makers of the film didn't want to alienate the Catholic Church. It was good to see Jean Reno and the other French actors speak in their original language. We all know how possessive they can get about 'la langue Francais'. I still have some issues with Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou as the main characters. In the book, Robert Langdon had a sartorial life. He was merely a professor and symbologist so he was terrified most of the time as the story progressed. Tom Hanks portrayed him as a self assured man who suddenly can handle anything that comes his way even being attacked by a ruthless killer. Audrey Tautou, well she will always have this "petite gamine" look pasted on her pixie face. So it is a bit difficult to believe she is a well established cryptologist.
In conclusion, overall I believe Ron Howard gave us a concise adaptation of a very complicated and well researched novel. The pace was good and the plot was suspenseful enough. The dialogue was a bit cliche with a few Hollywood style crappy lines. The acting was somewhat convincingly believable. The script stayed true to the novel. Although of course, no screenwriter can really captured all the minute details of any novel. Cinematography and visual editing is where it scored quite high in my books. Some of the most famous places in the world rich with historical facts provided the essential factor in salvaging this film to make it a pleasant viewing experience.
As for the fact whether as a Catholic I was frazzled by the revelation that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and had kids. Well let me just say, my belief/faith has not been shattered one single bit. My relationship with God is a very personal journey. It certainly won't take a book nor a movie to rattle it. Amen! :D

Sunday, May 21, 2006

ZHOU YU'S TRAIN
Gong Li, Tony Leung, Honglei Sun

"Her love is torn between a poet and a doctor."

Running from place to place, something is bound to happen

Saturday night, I was flipping through the channels in search of some 'decent' movie to watch. I ended up watching a very mediocre French film on TV5. Totally boring with a very lousy plot but I watched it till the end. Patrick Bruel's baby face charms worked its magic. Now if you don't know who Patrick Bruel is, well then never mind, you won't get my drift.
Still wide awake and since I already started the night reading subtitles, I decided to watch Zhou Yu's Train. A film I bought several weeks ago.
A rather powerful and evocative human drama set in the scenic Chinese countryside. This poignant love story stars Gong Li as Zhou Yu, a porcelain painter who falls in love with Chen, a shy poet who lives in another village. Twice a week, she sets off on a train journey to be with him. Along the way, she meets Zhang, a veterinarian who also expresses an interest in her independent and feisty presence. That in essence is the simple plot of this Chinese movie. Gorgeous scenery of the Chinese countryside, wide open spaces, shots of calm lakes and foggy environment, cable cars, ferry boats and of course a train ride. Only 3 characters to focus on and goaded on by a narrator who tells us about Zhou Yu's story. Gong Li is a very refreshing actress to watch, her facial expressions very prominently depicting her various emotional range.
Yet in all its simplicity, this film provokes deep emotional feelings in the viewer. Feelings of desire and longing as Zhou Yu makes her train trip to be with her poet. Anyone who has had a long distance relationship would understand. Flirtatious emotions whenever Zhou engages in a silly teasing banter with the doctor. Feelings of confusion and deep anguish as she is torn between two loves. A feeling of being suspended between a dream and reality. The agony of choosing between a love that is steady as opposed to a fulfilling love that festers like a figment of her imagination. But most of all, a triumphant almost victorious feeling of finally knowing what you really want in life and whom you want to spend the rest of your life with. This, of course comes towards the final 10 minutes of the film. A rather confusing ending that I had to rewind the DVD a bit to comprehend what just unfolded.
I have to say though it is a slow moving film. Nothing much happens. You only have 3 main characters. It won't appeal to an audience who values a plot with action, drama and dialogue. Nor would it make much sense for someone who doesn't like to read subtitles. But it does provoke one to think long after the film has ended. A lot of questions filled my mind, not because there was something lacking in the movie, but because I could think of a thousand different scenarios to explain just who and what Zhou Yu's life was all about.
Now that in my opinion is why I like watching foreign movies, its cinematic feat to make me linger with ponderous thoughts long after the end credits have rolled by.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Patrick Dempsey, Ben Kingsley, Julie Delphy

Rasholonikov

I have to admit I've never been patient enough to read Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. But I've always been intrigued by those really thick and long Russian novels which depict an era deeply rooted with historical facts. So upon seeing this TV film adaptation, I promptly bought it to add to my film collection.
The story is about a young Bolshevik (those who opposed the Tsar) named Rodyo Raskolnikov who believes he is an extraordinary person, even having the audacity to compare himself to the great Napoleon. His point comes into play when he plots to murder an old woman who is a money lender. Since no one witnesses the gruesome act, he feels he is above suspicion and can get away after committing the crime. He is then put in several situations where his guilt slowly eats up his conscience until he feels the need to confess to the crime to purge himself of his sins. I believe Dostoevsky devoted many pages in the book dealing with the inner turmoil of his central character coming to terms with what he has done. Sadly though, the movie wasn't powerful enough to convey these conflicts that Raskolnikov went through. Even though it stars three talented actors, Ben Kingsley, Patrick Dempsey and Julie Delphy, there was nothing they could do to salvage the lousy script to make the film worth watching. I suppose any director would think twice about putting into film this vastly complicated book. The novel focuses on the inner struggles of a very well developed character such as Raskolnikov who is one of the best characters created in the literary world. He deals with numerous emotions from guilt, arrogance, pride to humility. I'm pretty sure they could have presented it much better. Perhaps with a much bigger budget who knows? It was pretty obvious the film's quality was rather grainy. They hired mostly actors who didn't speak much English, while those who did spoke with a Russian accent. This movie in its failure to convey the powerful essence of this great novel almost makes me want to read the book. Alas, I figure it will take me forever to finish because I'm pretty much a slower reader and I don't have the luxury of time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

POSEIDON
Kurt Russell, Emmy Rossum, Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, Jacinda Barrett. Mike Vogel, Andre Braugher.

Cinema 4, Edsa Shangri-la Cineplex

"Mayday"

Wet, wet, wetAlright well I never saw the original Poseidon Adventure so I can't really make a valid comparison but the first one was released when 'disaster' movies were the in thing. It was a time when CGi and special effects were unheard of but a plot with suspense and thrill factor sustained most of the movies.
Wolfgang Petersen known for the ultimate submarine movie, "Das Boot" manned this remake of a movie about a luxurious ferry that sank after being hit by a rogue wave in the middle of the ocean. Disaster strikes pretty much early on the movie and the remaining minutes we are shown the struggle of the few survivors to make it to the top of the ship to escape. The movie is laden with loopholes and highly impossible scenarios which tend to be overshadowed by the thrill of finding out which of the very few survivors stay afloat so to speak to freedom. I won't enumerate the gaping inconsistencies one by one because (a) they are too numerous to list and (b) everyone who has reviewed this disaster movie has already mentioned them over and over again. The few actors who get most of the focus were pretty much ok, in my opinion. Except maybe I did wish at some point the insufferable kid would finally drown to end my misery. Heh! I haven't seen Richard Dreyfuss in many films lately so it was good to watch him in such an ineffectual role. Although as a gay architect who wanted to commit suicide but amazingly survives, out of all the thousand passengers who perished seems like such a cliche. Surely, Josh Lucas' amazing blue eyes was quite pleasant to watch in his 'heroic' role, he just has a mesmeric presence on screen.
To my pleasant surprise and despite all the negative reviews I've heard about this watery wet movie, I enjoyed it and thought it was suspenseful enough till the very end.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

LORD OF WAR
Nicholas Cage, Jared Leto, Ian Holm, Bridget Moynahan

"The first and most important rule of gun-running is: never get shot with your own merchandise."

Yuri OrlovAt first I thought it was another one of Nicolas Cage's action packed movies which tend to be over the top, really noisy scenes masquerading as car chases and explosions going off every few minutes. But, I was pleasantly surprised to learn - it had an underlying theme and powerful message against the proliferation of weapons/guns.
He portrays Yuri Orlov, an Ukrainian immigrant living in New York who becomes a well established gun runner. Accompanied by his younger brother, he travels to the war zones and the war torn areas to sell rifles, arms and military paraphernalia to governments, different warring factions, the insurgents and rebels. They proliferate a vicious cycle of genocide, massacres and bloody reign of terror. Places like Beirut, Cambodia, Liberia and the former Soviet Union are portrayed vividly in the movie. We are led on by Nicholas Cage's voice over regarding the wheelings and dealings of this lucrative industry of gun running and arms dealers. Hot in pursuit after Yuri's tracks is a 'by the books', incorruptible Interpol agent played by Ethan Hawke.
The movie moves at a fast pace. It has a good soundtrack of different songs in the language of the places he travels to and it helps build up suspense. Although there were several scenes where they didn't provide any subtitles whenever Yuri spoke in a foreign language. But I guess the director thought it was irrelevant. The viewers would more or less understand from the gestures what they were talking about.
Nicholas Cage is quite convincing as the guilt free arms dealer who only wants to earn money and doesn't really let the whole selling.arms.to.rebels.is.wrong issue dampen his resolve. Jared Leto, on the other hand plays his cocaine addicted brother quite effectively in a subdued manner. He is more sensitive to the plight of the refugees, the displaced population who suffer as a result of these wars perpetrated by the rebels. Ethan Hawke, Bridget Moynahan and Ian Holm provide minor supporting roles and the African actors in the film came across as quite menacing thus giving plausible performances.
The more powerful message of the movie is revealed towards the end. It will certainly make one more aware of what really happens in the world today. It is a thought provoking film which exposes the vile truth regarding the true brains behind the arms dealing industry.
This quote says it all: "The reason I'll be released is the same reason you think I'll be convicted. I *do* rub shoulders with some of the most vile, sadistic men calling themselves leaders today. But some of these men are the enemies of *your* enemies. And while the biggest arms dealer in the world is your boss--the President of the United States, who ships more merchandise in a day than I do in a year--sometimes it's embarrassing to have his fingerprints on the guns. Sometimes he needs a freelancer like me to supply forces he can't be seen supplying. So. You call me evil, but unfortunately for you, I'm a necessary evil."

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

CARANDIRU
Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos,
Milton Gonçalves, Ivan de Almeida, Rodrigo Santoro, Lázaro Ramos, Caio Blat, Wagner Moura

"Film based on real life experiences of doctor Drauzio Varella inside dreadful State penitentiary Carandiru"

Prison Break

If you watch CNN international on a daily basis, you would have seen news about those jail riots in far flung places like Colombia and Brazil. Well this movie focuses on real events which occurred in 1992 at a prison in the town of Carandiru, somewhere in Brazil. The prison was originally built to accommodate 4,000 prisoners but soon its population ballooned to overcrowded capacity with 7,500 men. They are jailed for different offenses from rape, robbery, arson to various petty crimes. Quite lenient atmosphere prevails within Carandiru, there are no patrol guards roaming the cells, they are placed only at vantage points in strategic locations where they can control the prisoners from a distance. The incarcerated are free to make their imprisoned life as comfortable as possible.
We meet several characters through the eyes of a visiting physician who advocates safe sex to prevent the spread of AIDS. Scenes on how they landed themselves in prison are mixed within the film, providing us a relevant human element factor. Most of them are driven by poverty turning to a never ending cycle of crime with brothers, sons and nephews all in prison paying their rightful dues to society. It is a very menacing situation and certainly rampant in third world countries. Towards the end of the movie, things get rather violent once a riot erupts and the government through the riot police react with brutal force. The pace of the film is good enough for the viewers to stay tuned in order to find out who among the prisoners survive the tragedy. Several scenes also show us how families cope with having their relatives in prison and how daily existence is such a struggle in impoverished nations. Certainly a thought provoking movie which addresses certain relevant social issues. It helps that it is entirely in the Brazilian language with English subtitles, of course. Yet it reaches across the barriers and the different global divides to tell us a true story of human suffering and grave injustice which still occur in most parts of the world, today.

Saturday, May 6, 2006

IN GOOD COMPANY
Dennis Quaid, Topher Grace, Scarlett Johansson, Marg Helgenberger

"He's rich, young and handsome. He's in love with you and he's your dad's boss."

HBO

But this isn't a foxhole. It's a Porsche

I understand from the IMDB website that Ashton Kutcher was the first choice for the role of the young ambitious upstart who takes over the top job when two companies merge. Well thank God he had some conflict in his schedule so he wasn't able to do this film. I can't stand that Kutcher guy. Heh. Anyways, Topher Grace from the same show, you know That 70's show (something I haven't taken a liking for) did just fine in this role.
A story about how a whole company is put on the edge when there is a takeover and one by one the poor employees are given the pink slip and fired from their jobs. Dennis Quaid as the head of the team somehow barely keeps his job because he becomes the wingman and not because he is a good salesman. In fact, he hardly makes any valuable sales pitch and is just hanging on by his teeth. To muddle up the plot a bit, his wife is pregnant, he is already in his early 50s and their eldest daughter is shifting to a more expensive college, the NYU to pursue creative writing of all courses in the whole wide world of tertiary education.
Pretty much realistic in this age of mergers, hostile takeovers, no security of tenure in the workplace and young ambitious guys taking over the more experienced yet dispensable older employees. So that alone keeps the movie mildly interesting to watch, no major task to figure out. The actors do well in their roles, dialogue is ok, the plot is up to date with the times - all make for a pleasant viewing experience.

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

AMERICAN SPLENDOR
Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar

"Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff"

HBO

Who is Harvey Pekar

An autobiographical film on the life of Harvey Pekar, the brains behind the popular cult comics, American Splendor. Brilliantly portrayed by Paul Giamatti, the film is interspersed with narratives/voice overs of the real Harvey Pekar. It traces his life from childhood, his bachelor years, his married life up till his retirement from his job. We see Harvey striving in his 9 to 5 job as a clerk in a Veterans hospital. His obsessive hobby of collecting LPs living in a little crummy apartment just like any ordinary man. His luck changes when one day he decides to 'write' stories based on his everyday experiences such as waiting in line in a convenience store. Not being able to draw well, he enlists the help of a friend thus voila "American Splendor", the comic book was born. It became a huge hit among the readers of this genre of publication and he achieved a relative amount of fame enough to merit guestings on the Dave Letterman show. Despite his success, he still worked at his regular job, had the usual angst of everyday living taking its toll on him and his wife, still the sarcastic and bitter man who seems to complain about every little thing on earth. I guess that's where he got his appeal because he drew on his personal experiences in every day situations of an ordinary person living in America. The film was true to form in portraying the different time frame, the story was pretty good after all it was based on real events in the life of a real person. I like how certain scenes were done in comic style with those little bubbles which appear next to the characters whenever they spoke. Good innovative way to present a film about a comic book.
Paul Giamatti was likeable enough as Harvey Pekar. Because if you watch the footage of the real Harvey Pekar, you will see just how insufferable he was as a person. Always bitter and totally annoying in a depressing sort of way. Hope Davis did well too as Joyce, Harvey's eccentric wife. I kept saying to myself wow she's very patient and tolerable to put up with such a depressing guy. But I guess that's love huh?
Overall it is a rather simple film about an ordinary guy who achieved some fame in the comic book industry, Harvey Pekar who come up with this statement - "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff."
I totally agree!

THE SENTINEL
Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland, Kim Basinger, Eva Longoria

"In 141 years, there's never been a traitor in the Secret Service.... Until Now."

Cinema 2, Shangri-la Complex

Pete Garrison

After watching most of the talk shows where Kiefer Sutherland and Michael Douglas discussed this movie, you pretty much figured out the plot of this film. So all you had to do was watch to see if you could spot early on who exactly is the mole/traitor that betrays the Secret Service. Heck I figured it out within a few minutes that the film began. Yay! So all I had to do was watch it unfold, see how Michael Douglas compared to the leaner more fit Kiefer Sutherland. I also tried to get engrossed with Eva Longoria's character despite her being just a mere decorative piece, you know pretty to look at but hardly relevant in the grand scheme of things.
The plot did have a lot of loopholes with regards to the true motives of the bad guys, how the Secret Service agency can be easily compromised and why was the U.S. President such an easy target and they even threw in a unbelievable subplot involving the First Lady. Sure you do pose a lot of questions but at least it makes you think. Then you realize hey it is just a movie which was accordingly based on a book which of course I haven't read, let alone knew existed.
But anyways the good thing is it was suspenseful enough to grab my attention. You do get an overall idea on the intricacies of the Secret Service agency and realize it isn't merely a I-stand-behind-the-President-dressed-impeccably routine. It is a valiant job with a lot of risks involved.
Michael Douglas despite his visible wrinkles still projects well on screen, fits his role to a T. Of course, Kiefer Sutherland is a caricature of his role on 24 (which I've never watched, by the way) but he does have a well modulated voice and speaks quite clearly without mumbling his lines. The other supporting cast members all do well to make it a somewhat convincing film about the threat of terrorism and conspiracy theories.
A relevant topic in these precarious times.

 

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