Saturday, June 24, 2006

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS

Audrey Tautou, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sergi Lopez, Sophie Okonedo

"Some things are too dangerous to keep a secret."

Senay

Despite being the big soccer fan that I am, I needed to take a break from watching all those football matches in the World Cup. Rummaging through my collection of VCDs which were piled in the 'films I have yet to watch' section, I came across "Dirty Pretty Things." This film was recommended to me by a friend so when I found it in the P99 collection at the video store, naturally I bought it.
It is basically an immigrant story. A Nigerian illegal immigrant in London who works at a hotel stumbles upon this secret yet lucrative business of indigent people selling their organs. Usually performed in unsanitary conditions in one of the rooms of the hotel, most of the 'patients' are illegals who need the money to make ends meet. It is mostly a forgotten part of society composed of illegal immigrants who come to London (UK) to escape a harsh life back in their home countries only to be victims of exploitation. It is a never ending cycle, really. An industry where people with health problems are willing to buy organs from the black market. Poor illegal immigrants without the proper documents are willing to sell their organs so they can be paid cash or are given forged documents like Identity cards and/or passports. The middle man who finds the victims and serve as go between in these degrading transactions. This film directed by Stephen Frears is an eye opener to the underlying microcosm of London that we don't really see nor talk about openly in coffee shops. But I guess the setting is irrelevant because it can happen anywhere where illegal immigrants are routinely prevalent and open to exploitation. They are often taken advantage of and usually it is way beyond their control.
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Okwe, the Nigerian immigrant is a forceful actor. His portrayal is haunting as well as pathetically convincing. You can really commiserate with Okwe's conflict to make a better life for himself in London while still trying to uphold his morality. That despite his unfortunate situation, he is still a humane person who is forced by circumstances to take a stand against injustice and human right abuses. Ejiofor is also seen in "Inside Man" as the partner of police hostage negotiator Denzel Washington. As well as in "Love Actually" as the husband of Keira Knightely. This is Audrey Tautou's first English speaking role. She is Senay, a Turkish refugee who goes through a lot of despicable acts that abuses her rights as a woman and more importantly as a person. Her accent though is a mix of Middle Eastern, French and English that it is sometimes hard to figure out what she is mumbling about. Her sad doe eyed expression is very heart wrenching. I do like the subtle chemistry that develops between Senay and Okwe. The other actors all portray immigrants too from different countries all working in the hotel. In fact, there wasn't any British person in the film except maybe for its director, Stephen Frears. The film though does have some glaring loopholes yet somehow it seems inconsequential to question them. It is enough that Stephen Frears presented us a film that evokes a lot of emotional anxiety so we somehow numb ourselves to the flaws of the film.
"Pretty Dirty Things" is a difficult movie to watch. You can't help but feel bad about the lives of illegal immigrants. How people are forced by circumstances to do pretty dirty things in this world. Why? Because they managed to escape from a much harsh fate back in their war torn impoverished countries. Yet despite all these really deplorable situations, I'm more shocked at the fact these people are still ever so hopeful. Their dreams of making it good still continue to flourish. If that isn't an evocative fighting human spirit then I don't know what it is.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

INSIDE MAN

Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor

"It looked like the perfect bank robbery. But you can't judge a crime by its cover."

Cinema 1, Power Plant Cinema

Dalton Russell

After watching mostly French movies (except for "The Lake House") for the past week, this weekend it was time to treat my dad for a Father's Day movie. I'm glad that I picked a good film to watch with my father because the thing about my father and movies is that he likes them to have some hidden meaning and with a little twisted angle.
Well anyway, this intelligent tale of a bank heist with a twist is a difficult film to review. I don't want to reveal anything about the plot. I prefer the audience discover for themselves from start to finish why this film deserves the accolades it received. You have to listen, watch closely every minute detail that unfolds on the screen.
Good acting from the main characters notably Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen. You expect nothing but the best from them in any movie they star in. So they surely didn't disappoint in this one.
It was masterfully directed by Spike Lee. His usual style of gripe to showcase movies with racial tension in our everyday world does shine in "Inside Man." After all if you pay close attention to Spike Lee's career, you will notice he cast Asians, African Americans and the ubiquitious Jewish person in his movies. The little tirade that Ed Norton cleverly delivered in a very interesting scene in "25th Hour" proves my point. In that short clip, Norton basically lambasted every minority group in New York. Case in point, the opening sequence of "Inside Man" begins with an Indian song blasting loudly. Ingenious innovative way to capture the viewer's attention from the get go.
Ok well back to the bank heist, in the early part of the film I had formulated some theories but boy was I wrong in my assumptions. The unpredictability factor is what makes this film a suspensful thriller like no other 'crime' themed film I've seen in a while. The only one I can think of is "The Usual Suspects". As well the last part of "Ocean's Eleven", the remake with George Clooney and Brad Pitt in lead roles. It is no wonder that some reviews tend to compare Dalton Russell to the inconquerable Keyser Soze.
I do recommend this movie because once in a while we need to treat ourselves with a 'clever' bank robbery film with funny yet witty dialogue, good acting from the whole cast and which had an underlying hidden theme. A notch above the usual I.rob.a.bank.to.steal.money scenario. The reputation of one man is a small price to pay for the millions of people who perished solely based on their religious beliefs. That in my opinion is what Spike Lee was trying to convey in this suspenseful caper. I'd say he did it succesfully with "Inside Man".

Saturday, June 17, 2006

NOUVELLE FRANCE

Irene Jacob, Noemie Godin-Vigneau, Gerard Depardieu, David La Haye, Tim Roth, Jason Isaacs, Juliette Gosselin, Sebastian Huberdeau, Bianca Gervais

Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex
11th French Film Festival

Canada

A French and Canadian production with a cast of international stars. Its setting is the mid 18th century in "Nouvelle France". The land referred to as "New France" is Quebec, Canada. Amidst the futile battle between England and France over its colony, a poignant love story develops between Francois and Marie Loup.
This tragic real love story is set in 1758 - 1761, a period when England decides to fight France over Canada. The haughty French unable to get anything worthwhile from their colony abandons 'the new France'.
The film primarily focuses on Marie Loup Carignan, a feisty widow, the mother of France, her only daughter. Marie Loup sells herbs/potions at the town's market place. Her concoctive lotions are considered taboo thus her reputation is somewhat of a 'witch' in that small backward community. But she is a free spirit and a very devoted mother to France. Her world changes when she falls in love with Francois Le Gardeur. An rich adventurer who sympathizes more with the indigenous Indian tribe than mingle with the oligarchy of pseudo French nouveau riche who ruled Canada during that time. Their tragic love story unfold slowly amidst the chaotic and tumultuous events during that era. Certain influential persons also intervene to prevent their love affair from blossoming.
At first, the film has this certain allure of a stage play. I couldn't help but convince myself that I was watching a movie not a theater play. Then mercifully, the middle part of the film takes on a more cinematic and visual approach. Scenes of battle scenes, extravagant parties, small town images, panoramic views of mountainous forests and the court room scenes add some weight to give the movie an 'epic' stance. The more heartwrenching part comes towards the end. The really loud dramatic music adds to the poignancy of the film. But there were times it was a bit too overwhelming for the ears. I felt the director overdid the musical score for certain scenes when a silent zoom in on the characters faces would have sufficed to lend the film the agony and tragic angst it wanted to portray. A few familiar names like Irene Jacob, Tim Roth, Gerard Depardieu and Jason Isaacs are cast in supporting roles.
But it is the 3 main characters portrayed by French/Canadian actors who really carry this film on their own merits. Noemie Godin Vigneau as Marie Loup bore this morose expression on her face. It was evident that as Marie Loup, she had a pretty rough existence and kept a pretty detached view about the world and her life in particular. David la Haye's portrayal of Francois is pensive and brooding. He isn't your average dashing leading man type. He is rugged and sometimes comes across as an arrogant, snobbish person yet his heart is filled with a yearning passion for Marie Loup. My favorite is the child actress who stars as France. Julliette Gosselin is a refreshing presence whose warm smiles exudes hope for her future despite some harsh realities in her young life.
The movies that came to my mind as I watched "Nouvelle France" were "Joan of Arc" and "Cold Mountain". But only because the theme was somewhat similar but I like to add that "Nouvelle France" was much more superior than those two abovementioned films combined. By the way, it entirely in English too. So don't worry about reading any subtitles which I believe one of the main reasons why people avoid foreign movies. Having to read subtitles which almost always don't convey the true meaning of the words expressed by the characters.

Friday, June 16, 2006

LAKE HOUSE
Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves, Christopher Plummer, Dylan Walsh

Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex

"How do you hold on to someone you've never met?"

Kate and Alex

My original plan was to watch another French movie but there was something wrong with Cinema 1 therefore it was canceled, for today. Since I was already there, I settled for "Lake House". Honestly, I admit I wasn't fully concentrating on this film. I had it in my brain that I was going to watch a French film so for some strange reason, I felt cheated. I also felt cheated by "Lake House".
It is a love story with a twist. Kate and Alex start corresponding through the mailbox of a house on a lake. Only problem is they are stuck in different time zones. She is currently in the year 2006 while he is still in 2004. Yes strange scenario but hey it is just a movie, one that transcends time. This movie was patterned after a Korean film, IL Mare. It was directed by an Argentinean director. It stars two Hollywood actors who worked together 12 years ago in that action thriller "Speed". They have developed a good chemistry both on and off the screen. So this film is a good comeback vehicle for them to reunite and try to re-enact their sparks on screen.
The Lake House, in question is a beautiful transparent structure built on the edge of a lake. A masterpiece in architectural design which sadly wasn't featured much in the film. Somehow, it felt like a house not really a home for both of the characters who inhabited it at certain intervals during their lives.
Alex (Keanu Reeves) is an architect. The script interjects valuable insights about architectural structures especially when Alex talks shop with his father, (Christopher Plummer) a famous architect too who designed the lake house. They provided the necessary tools like a drawing table, blueprints, maps and books for an architect. To make Alex seem like the consummate professional who is passionate about his job. Sandra Bullock's character, Kate is a doctor. She is a lonely person who also focuses mostly on healing people. We are not really privy to their other interests and or hobbies. They are both lonely souls very occupied with their work who connect through their letters. Never mind the fact that they are not in the same time zone. Slowly their love story develops, the time frame flickers between Alex's past (2004) and Kate's current life (2006) and even ventures way into the future (2008).
My problem with this movie is that you know Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves maintain a good relationship in real life. In some sense, you know they are merely acting just for the heck of it. My point is that it is clearly evident they treat each other as friends not as romantic partners. Yes sure, obviously there is some chemistry between the two of them yet for me it wasn't based on romance it was purely platonic. That factor glaringly comes across in the film. That whatever relationship Kate and Alex develop in the film isn't nurtured with passion nor romance. But rather it is just some deep friendship harbored on respect, trust and mutual support.
I also have some issue with the rather confusing time frame in the film. As I said earlier in this review, I wasn't totally focused so I was trying very hard to channel my hopeless romantic self to be wowed by this film. One question though if they are always 2 years apart how come it just all falls into place at the end? Oh well. I just shrugged, smiled and said 'awww how sweet' and watched the end credits roll by to the tune of a Paul McCarthey song whose title escapes me at the moment. In the same manner as pretty soon, this film would evaporate into the memory warehouse in the abyss of my mind.
In conclusion, the film does have a certain level of poignancy factored into an impossible love story scenario but it seems in all my sarcastic glory, it failed to tug at my heartstrings.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

LAISSEZ PASSER

Jacques Gamblin, Denis Podalydes, Charlotte Kady, Marie Desgranges

Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex
11th French Film Festival

la guerre

This film is almost 3 hours long, well 170 minutes to be exact. It is a nostalgic look back into the French film industry during the second World War, German's occupation of France. All the characters and believe me there are numerous of them are real people. People who worked in the film studios. Continental Films was taken over by Germans during the 2nd World War. Well heck they practically took over everything during those days. Names like Jean Aurenche, Jean Devaivre, Spaak, Le Chanois, Clouzot, not known to non French cinephiles are the main characters in this film. They are credited as among the pioneers of a trend in French cinema called French Nouvelle Vague (French new wave) in the late 50s, early 60s. A period when directors like Godard and Truffaut made films now immortalized in dusty archives.
So for someone like me who has a rather vague idea of how French cinema developed through the years, I admit it was a bit daunting to focus on the different characters. Not familiar with their particular role in the industry I merely watched this film for the various insights it presented.
It showed us how the Germans for the sake of the art of cinema controlled the film studios. They practically decided which scripts were worth turning into movies. They supervised everything from the production aspect, the casts and revised the scripts if they found something unfavorable.
"Laissez Passer" also delves into the difficult experiences of various persons involved at the different stages of movie making. A chilling albeit brief scene is when the musical director of one film told the assistant director, he won't be able to score the music for the film. When Devaivre asked him why, the old guy merely opened his jacket to show the "Star of David" sewn on the breast pocket of his inner vestments. He wanted to flee France before his whole family would be incarcerated.
Tavernier (the director of "Laissez Passer") himself worked with most of the characters in this film. He does indeed know how it felt to be making movies during the German regime and under the Vichy government.
The movie though focuses mainly on 2 characters. Jean Devaivre (he wrote the novel, this film is based on), an assistant director and Jean Aurenche, a noted scriptwriter. Devaivre chose to work for Continental films despite it being run by Germans for the sake of feeding his family. Aurenche on the other hand, refused to compromise and never worked for any Germans. "Laissez Passer" goes beyond the behind the scenes of the film making process, it centers on the human nature aspect too of the central characters. How one man is willing to corroborate with the 'enemies' just to survive and make ends meet. While another man would rather starve than work for the occupiers.
The cinematography is very authentic. Scenes of steam trains, air raids, the bombing of Paris, the authentic film sets and of course the costume designs of the characters' clothes all contributed to give us a glimpse of that era. The film had this grainy feel to it and it looked like it could have been filmed in the 1940s yet its play date was in 2002. I do not know the actual persons the characters portrayed so I cannot say for sure if they were depicted accurately. Yes, there are many characters involved and I sometimes tend to mix them up since some of them looked alike. The pacing is a bit slow in the beginning. A few flat scenes too when the scenarios were mostly in the film studios. It picks up a bit towards the end. Tavernier added a little suspenseful episode in the life of Devaivre who was an active member of the resistance. He would help in any way he can to hand them documents he 'stole' from the safe of the Germans running the Continental film studios. A neat trick was to show some original clips from the black and white films which they were supposedly working on in the studios. It validated the authenticity of the film.
It is indeed a rather long movie but if you are ever interested in absorbing contemporary history then you would hardly notice the time. You don't need to have a full grasp of the evolution of French cinema to appreciate "Laissez Passer". You can simply enjoy the way Tavernier presented us with a film about humanity during harsh, desperate times. Even if there was a war raging in the battlefields, people irrespective of their nationalities, French or Germans still valued the art of film making. They respected cinema as a way of entertainment as well as some sort of escapism from the dire conditions. An idea still permeated in the 21 century.

Monday, June 12, 2006

LES SOEURS FACHEES

Isabelle Huppert, Catherine Frot, Brigitte Catillon, Francois Berleand

Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex
11th French Film Festival

Martine et Louise

I knew this was a film about sisters so I wanted to watch it with my only sister, so despite it being shown at 10 in the evening, I persisted. Well it was either 10 p.m or at noon. I just need to emphasize that I am a certified nightowl thus noon was so out of the question. Heh.

Ok now back to the film. Martine and Louise are siblings. Louise, a beautician lives in Le Mans (a town in the French countryside) is the younger sister. She comes to Paris for a few days to visit her sister. She also has an interview with a publishing house regarding a novel she wrote. Martine is a rich bored housewife with a young son who idles her life away. Fancy trivial stuff like pampering herself, going to art galleries, having lunch at restaurants occupies her time.
They are total opposites. Martine constantly picks on Louise for being a silly country bumpkin. She is an uptight, very critical and highly sarcastic bad itch! Louise on the other hand is a refreshing breath of fresh air. She is always smiling, sees the good in people, always positively centered and affectionate in an saccharine manner to the point of annoyance to the anal retentive Martine.
The film focuses on the contrasting characteristics of the two sisters. The way they deal with different scenarios, the way they interact with other people, how they act in public. It offers a good insight on how different sisters can be despite the fact that they are related by blood.
Martine does have a 'good' side which occasionally manifest itself. One night when they couldn't sleep, they see a TV show from their childhood days. Martine loosens up and starts goofing around with Louise. So the director wants us to believe that Martine isn't so mean, after all. There is a rather deep reason behind Martine's hard fisted reaction towards life. It isn't blaringly revealed but the viewer does pick it up from the subtle gestures Martine exhibits in some scenes of the film.
Much of the funny and comedic scenes come courtesy of Louise as she struggles to adjust to the Parisian lifestyle. Yet she still retains this air of innocent almost childlike quality that is so endearing you can't help but feel really upset when Martine keeps berating her sister for minor mistakes.

Isabelle Huppert portrays Martine. If you follow French cinema you will know that she essentially likes to play complicated and flawed women who deviates from the normal nature of things. So to see her in a 'normal' role is an eye opener even if in this film, she is cruel sister. Catherine Frot's twinkling eyes are very expressive. She is such a delight to watch as Louise. The plot has a constant flow to it and there isn't any dull moment. Cinematic visual is beautifully scenic, it is Paris after all.
It made me miss my favorite city in the world when I saw the scene of Louise on the upper deck of a double Decker tourist bus passing by known landmarks like the Place Vendome, La Bastille and Plaza Trocadero.

After the film ended, I jokingly told my sister. You know, if you ever treat me like that, I will absolutely NOT hesitate to slap your face. I doubt I have the patiently pleasant nature of Louise in me. Although I am trying to have a more positive outlook in life.
But thank God I have a deep and special bond with my only sister and that scenario won't ever happen to me in real life. Phew!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

HALF LIGHT

Demi Moore, Hans Matheson, Kate Isitt, Henry Ian Cusick, Beans El-Balawi

"Believe in the Beyond"

Angus


Rachel Carlson is a novelist who tragically lost her only son, Thomas. In order to move on with her life amidst the terrible grief, she moves to this cottage in a remote part of Scotland. A scenic spot on earth accentuated by a towering lighthouse right across from her cottage. In Scotland, her grief makes her paranoid when she sees signs of her son everywhere. She meets Angus, the guardian of the lighthouse. They become friends. She needs him for research about lighthouses for her latest book. He seems like a lonely man who could use some company.
But something is amiss. Things aren't as they seem. Several questions surface. Could her son be communicating from the great beyond? Is he warning her of certain dangers lurking in the lighthouse? Or is she merely going insane? Who exactly is Angus? Is this another ghost story?
What good will it do if I answered all these questions? I don't want to reveal too much. But suffice to say, yes it is a ghost story but no it isn't the boohoo howling with white sheets scary sort of a ghost tale.
There are a few twists thrown in. Maybe if you are keen enough you can figure it all out in the middle part of the movie. I certainly didn't but I like to be surprised and let the suspense sustain my attention till the very end.
Demi Moore who hasn't made much movies lately except for that kick ass looking babe role in "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle" looks a bit haggard. She still projects well though on screen. The others are unknown British and Irish actors but they come across believable.
I thought the plot took a while to get to the thrilling parts in the end. Then once it unfolded the director realized it was too long so he rushed to give the movie some credible ending. He did. It was a good closure both for Rachel Carlson and for the film.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

BEWITCHED
Nicole Kidman, Will Farrell, Shirley Maclaine, Michael Caine

Samantha the witch

We've all watched "Bewitched", the TV show at some point in our TV lives. Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York became household names.
But this movie is not exactly a remake. Nora Ephron presents us with a different angle. A mediocre actor wants to make a newer version of the TV show. Only this time, Jack Wyatt wants Darrin to be the main focus of the film not Samantha, his wifey witch. So he goes off to audition actresses who can crinkle with their noses just like Samantha does. But it is at the bookstore where he encounters Isabel, a witch in real life. She is tired of living a witchy existence and just longs to be human, a mere mortal without any powers. Thus the taping of the TV show begins. Unbeknownst to anyone on the set that she is a real witch.
There are a few scenes that deserve a chuckle or two. A lot of characters all blend in to get it some semblance of an ensemble. Subplots thrown in every now and then. Editing is a bit messy. Cinematography has this fairy tale look that permeates the entire film. Well it is about a witch with harmless little powers, after all. Nora Ephron's romantic comedy trend shines through but I did expect a bit more. It must be the script which left me hankering for some more bite and edgy feel and also some more laughter.
Nicole Kidman is perfectly cast as Samantha. Her nose is perky and pointy exactly like Samantha's or should I say, Elizabeth Montgomery's. Will Ferrel has this tendency to overdo it in his need to be funny. When his antics are goofy, it's fine. But when it evolves to the point of being slapstick silly, then it loses its comedic factor. I didn't feel much chemistry though between Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell. Just some wacky weird combination. Michael Caine and Shirley Maclaine have good comedic timing. They always shine in their roles even if they are only cast in bit parts. Watch out for a cameo role from Steve Carell, now he's one rip roaring hilarious dude.
I suggest you just watch this movie with a grain of salt. After all, what relevance does magic spells have in our life? None whatsoever. Just enjoy "Bewitched" for its cutesy and entertaining factor. Otherwise, you just might want to crinkle your own nose to make the film disappear into a puffing smoke of emptiness.

Friday, June 9, 2006

RIVIERA

Miou Miou, Vahina Giocante, Elie Semoun

Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex
11th French Film Festival

This is the first film I caught at this year's French Film Festival which runs from June 9 to June 18,2006.
It focuses on 2 women. Stella, a young woman who works as a dancer at a club. Her mother, Antoniette is a chambermaid at the Grand hotel. The setting is the French Riviera along the Cote D'azur. Throw in a 3rd character, Jean Michel a real estate agent who is a guest at the hotel.
The film shot in such a lovely location primarily focuses on the deep bond between mother and daughter. This develops even if they keep different hours cause of their jobs. Simple enough, right?
Well if you delve deeper, you will discover a lot more. A mother's desire to wish something better for her daughter's future. The daughter's acceptance of what she does for a living. How people stereotype you based on preconceived ideas. That women just want to be accepted and treated with respect. Loneliness indeed eat up people's souls. That one person's actions does have consequences. Most of all a mother's love for her daughter is a very powerful tool. I could go on and on, the implied scenarios are numerous. Or maybe I just analyze too much.
After all the movie is fraught with a semblance of simplistic nature. Dialogue is minimal, you can hear a pin drop. Techno music blares out loud to mask the silence. You have panoramic shots of a deep blue sky and the blue ocean. The pacing is slow almost to the point of boredom. Sometimes you try not to fall asleep.
Yet at the same time, I kept thinking there must be some sort of moralistic aspect to this film. That sometimes if you try too hard to make things happen for the best intentions, it can just backfire on you? I don't know.
I said earlier I overanalyze movies but there is something about French films that make me do that with wild abandon. They have this uncunning ability to end movies without providing you answers to some points that entered your mind. Fair enough. I like to use my brain cells once in a while, not be spoonfed with visual effects, even if it is just a movie, after all.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

GARDEN STATE
Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Ian Holm



A movie written and directed by Chicken Little aka that doctor dude (I don't know his name) in "Scrubs", Zach Braff.
He plays Andrew Largeman, a two bit actor in Los Angeles who goes home to New Jersey for the funeral of his mother. Large, as he is fondly referred to in the entire film goes through the motions of seeing his old friends, trying to re-establish a cordial relationship with his father and acknowledging an unfortunate incident in his childhood. Amidst these mind spinning processes, he encounters eccentric yet totally endearing in all her cuteness, Natalie Portman. She is Sam, a perky freespirit who supposedly has epilepsy, who isn't afraid to laugh about herself, constantly lies, has her pets dying on her but is such a lovely person inside out.
Large, on the other hand is a deeply disturbed individual who has been heavily medicated his entire life.
An incident in his childhood turned him into an emotionally detached individual.
Yet as the film unfolds we slowly witness his thawing, his sense of bitterness and numbness begin to subside. All because Sam with her positive energy and charming wit becomes his personal cheering squad. As the film evolves, we feel a sense of delight that Large is coming into his true self. Fair enough. What guy can resist Natalie Portman's sweet witty charms? This role fits Natalie Portman perfectly. She delivers a few of those existential lines which add to the beauty of the film.

"This is your one opportunity to do something that no one has ever done before and that no one will copy throughout human existence. And if nothing else, you will be remembered as the one guy who ever did this. This one thing."

"If you can't laugh at yourself, life's gonna seem a whole lot longer than you like."

"I know it hurts. But it's life, and it's real. And sometimes it fucking hurts, but it's life, and it's pretty much all we got."


But I guess kudos goes to Zach Braff because he did write the screenplay, after all. I have to admit his doctor character on "Scrubs" never appealed to me so I've never watched an episode of that show. But he has proven his worth as an actor and a first
time director in this film. Granted that the film isn't well crafted, some scenes seem out of place but overall the script more than made up for it.

It can't help but be compared to that other film which also focuses the same premise. A young down on his luck guy returns to his hometown to bury a parent and in the process, he discovers himself. "Elizabethtown" was helmed by Cameron Crowe and starred two ineffectual actors Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst. I found it too long and boring. The film was peppered with too many songs and the characters were not engaging enough to deserve our undivided attention.

Garden State though is a delightfully quirky film with eccentric characters who provide some meaningful insights about living life and dealing with issues we all grapple with at some point in our existence. The simplistic approach belittles the fact that this film will make you ponder about your own life.

But I'm still not going to watch "Scrubs". No thanks!

Saturday, June 3, 2006

BETTY FISHER ET AUTRES HISTOIRES
Sandrine Kiberlain, Nicole Garcia, Mathilde Seigner, Luck Mervil, Edouard Baer, Stephane Freiss, Alexis Chatrian

TV 5

Histoire de Jose

It is rare that I get to watch a decent French film now over at TV 5. They are usually shown on Fridays and Saturdays at 9:30 pm local time (Manila). A period when I would either be having dinner or caught up in other TV shows. But I was lucky enough to see this one from the beginning while channel surfing. Of course it had English subtitles which always helps although I *do* still speak and understand Francais. But it can get a bit tricky when they speak too fast.
Anyways, this film is based on a novel by Ruth Rendell entitled "The Tree of Hands". It is the story of Betty Fisher, a writer who returns to Paris after having lived in the United States. She has a young son, Joseph. She just bought a new house in the Parisian suburbs so she invited her mother Margot to stay with them for a few months. Her mother is a bit strange and is prone to episodes of eccentric behavior. After Joseph accidentally falls to his death, Betty is very distraught and falls into a sea of depression. Her mother, Margot decides on a wimp to kidnap another child, Jose to replace the child Betty lost tragically.
Thus begins the struggle of 3 different women all coping with their roles as mothers. You have Margot who is trying to make amends for Betty's hard childhood. Betty who just lost her only son, Joseph. A child she fought to have despite her husband, Edouard's reluctance to have kids. And lastly, Carole who is the mother of Jose. She is a waitress in a bar, doesn't know who Jose's real father is and resents the burden of having a son.
The director presents the film through snippets of the different characters. Projecting the screen with "Histoire de Betty", "Histoire de Alex" which loosely translates to "Betty's story", "Alex's story".
There are a lot of secondary characters who all somehow fit in some way or another to the main plot. The police detectives looking in the disappearance of little Jose, the doctor at the hospital, Alex who is allegedly Jose's real father, Francois who is Carole's current boyfriend and even a mob type Armenian guy.
But in essence it is the story of a mother coming to terms with the death of her son. Yet she is also learning to love/accept his replacement as her own child. Never mind if Jose was kidnapped in broad daylight. It all boils down to being a story about a mother's love for a child, any child.
The ending is a melange of twists, mistaken identities, brutal crime and also a triumphant escape. So after all the confusion, it just ends. You simply shrug your shoulders and go "Hmm ok so that was interesting in some surreal way."

Friday, June 2, 2006

FAILURE TO LAUNCH

Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Bates, Terry Bradshaw, Bradley Cooper, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Bartha

Cinema 5, SM Megamall

"To leave the nest, some men need just a little push"

The premise that a thirty something guy with a job and normal social skills but still lives with his parents is I take it a rather big deal in the US of A. But the fact that he has some serious commitment issues is what the director focused on as his reason for still living in nestled comfort with his folks. To make him realize he needs to shoo away, they hire a professional I-don't-know-what to pretend to fall in love with him. Her theory is that once a guy has some romance in his life, he will feel responsible enough to live on his own. Paula is played by an out of her elements Sarah Jessica Parker. By the way, I never developed an attachment for her despite her 'resounding' success in that HBO series, Sex and the City. Here, her acting was too contrite. It seemed as if Sarah Jessica Parker was trying hard to convince herself that there are really women out there who call playing pretend girlfriend to losers, a worthy profession.
Eventually, the whole charade is discovered by both parties and it evolves into a will-they-get-back-together-because-they-really-fell-in-love-with-each-other scenario. But at that point, I didn't really care if they ended up in each others arms because I couldn't feel the chemistry at all. Matthew McConaughey had much more rapport with Kate Hudson than he had with Sarah Jessica Parker in this movie.
I had more fun watching the subplot which involves her room mate, Kit trying to repulse one of his friends, Ace from his romantic overtures towards her. Zooey Deschanel was funny with her witty sarcasm. Bradley Cooper with his deep set eyes is always a pleasure to watch.
I've always been apathetic towards Matthew McConaughey. Here in this movie, he comes off as the typical athletic good guy with likeable friends but has some deep pain in his past relationship thus he cannot fully commit to women issue dangling in his pretty face.
I guess for me it just wasn't a big deal if he still lived with his parents but that is just the Asian in me talking. I know most guys in this part of the world still live with their parents, specifically for economic reasons. Or maybe they have commitment issues as well? I don't know. But this is not the proper forum to address the surmounting issues of guys, in general. So I won't go there.
Overall, the film wasn't as good as "How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days" but not as bad as "Sahara" either. That was Matthew McConaughey's botched up idea of an Arabian Adventure ala Indiana Jones complete with pretty girlfriend (Penelope Cruz) in tow.
So this was just a rather blah whatever kinda film which I promptly charged to my I-just-wanted-to-kill-some-time experience.

 

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