Thursday, September 21, 2006

"THE WICKER MAN"
Nicholas Cage, Kate Beahan, Ellen Burstyn, Leelee Sobieski, Frances McConroy

"Some Sacrifices must be Made"

Cinema 9, SM Megamall

Sister Willow

I was hesitant to watch this film because of its horror theme. But then I said hey it's Nicholas Cage so what the heck, go for it. It has to be told that I have developed this tradition of watching a Nicholas Cage film every year on my birthday. If memory serves me right, I saw "Windtalkers", "Matchstick Men" and "The Rock" on my natal day. This year I am in luck because "World Trade Center" opens here on October 18, the eve of my birthday. Hurray!

Ok now back to "The Wicker Man". Funny how trailers can be so deceiving. You would think it was some horror/ghost apparition story (the genre which I don't really appreciate) but once the film unfolded I found myself laughing. Well nope it isn't a comedy either but I was chuckling at how ridiculous the premise/plot is. How the main character was too traumatized to realize he was being played for a fool. How he was blinded by some sense of guilt and responsibility to redeem himself from past mistakes.

Edward Malus is a police officer who failed to save the lives of two people. They burn right in front of his eyes. While recovering from this traumatic experience, he receives a letter (in a font that was so medieval, he should have known better) from his ex fiancee who solicits his help. Apparently her daughter, Rowan has mysteriously disappeared. He hops on a small plane and lands in this mystical place called "Summersisle". The place is rather spooky, mostly inhabited by women in ethereal flowing dresses with names like Beech, Oak, Thorn and Rose who address each other as 'Sister'. Main honcho or the central Queen Bee of the island is Sister Summersisle, herself. A mother hen type of persona who has rather twisted ideas about the role of men in society. Thus begins Officer Malus' hunt for the missing child of his ex fiancee, a freespirit named Willow. The film sneaks up a twist towards the final part. It ends with a climax of one of the most haunting scenes I have ever seen. Well disturbingly haunting for me, because as I mentioned earlier gruesome horror films aren't exactly my cup of tea. I find out this movie is a remake of the original which was released in 1973. Critics say it is a very poor remake yet what do I know? I have no point of comparison, really.

Nicholas Cage plays the part well. He seems rather haggard and thinner though and it looks like age is finally catching up with him. Yet he is only 42 years old. Heh. The women in this film portrayed by good actresses like Ellen Burstyn (Nurse Betty from "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest") and Frances McConroy (the quirky mother in HBO's "Six Feet Under") breeze through like they are in some sort of trance. Prancing about in their flowing gowns and long tresses adorn with twigs, they were quite creepy characters. The nice scenery of the little island makes the film more or less watchable. But I had very strong issues with the filmsy nature of the plot. It was fraught with gaping loopholes that you can't help but shake your head and go 'Tsk Tsk Tsk' over and over again.

But on the other hand, I am not one to miss a film that Nicholas Cage stars in. So I might be rather biased yet at the same time I know I can't really be expected to be awed by all of his films, all the time. Hopefully next month, with Oliver Stone's able direction, he will redeem himself with "World Trade Center". Now that is something I am looking forward to with abated breath. But I rather forget the fact that I am turning a year older. Geez!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"SCOOP"
Woody Allen, Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman

"The perfect man. The perfect story. The perfect murder".

Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex


Splendini



Now that I've had my share of Japanese films which I absorbed like a sponge, it was time to revert to the usual Hollywood fare. What better way to break the cycle than with a Woody Allen movie? I've been a big fan of his films for the longest time. His past movies on relationships have always been a good showcase of the human psyche. I also like his sarcasm in delivering sharp witty dialogue mixed with some paranoid neurotic tones.

"Scoop" is the second movie that Woody Allen shot in England. His first venture was "Match Point" which alas I haven't watched yet. Briefly the plot is - an American journalism student is in London, staying with her British friend. Through some fluke, while the 'victim' of a trick being performed by a magician, she encounters the ghost of a dead reporter. He has a scoop for her regarding a serial killer case. Soon enough, she with the magician in tow start stalking their prime suspect, who just happens to be an aristocrat. The rest is pretty predictable. Girl falls in love with aristocrat, magician is skeptical as usual, clues point to aristocrat as the guilty party. Blah blah blah till the film ends in a quirky fashion just the way it started with some ghost story scene.

Scarlett Johansson tries her best to essay a role worthy of a Woody Allen film. She delivers her dialogue in a fast pace pattern most of his characters are famous for. Sad to say, she fails miserably. I don't know maybe she is still too young or she isn't as talented as most people tend to think. It just didn't seem right to me. There were some scenes where she was trying too hard so she came across as awkward. I heard she performed quite well in "Match Point" so I was surprised at her mediocre acting in this film.

Hugh Jackman aside from looking very aristocratic delivered his lines quite eloquently. Tall and quite a sight for sore eyes, this guy really knows his stuff. Well trained in both the theater and in films, he is a delight to watch. I believe that these leading men roles in romantic comedies (such as "Kate and Leopold") fits him like a hand in a glove. But I didn't see much chemistry between him and Scarlett Johansson. Maybe it is because she looks quite young for him so the pairing wasn't too convincing.


Woody Allen has visibly aged, it seems he has toned down quite a bit as far as being the neurotic guy who questions everything goes. His comedic timing though is still top notch. In this film he doesn't delve into his long spiels about life, love or some existential stuff that always clouds his character's mind. Here he is just a magician helping a girl find the truth behind a story so she can score a good scoop. Fair enough, sometimes it is good to just watch a Woody Allen film without being bombarded with witty unanswerable questions regarding life.

Nice shots of the English countryside, Hugh Jackman's effortless acting, a whimsical "Swan Lake" music during some scenes as well as a few scenes which deserve a chuckle or two are some of the 'good' points of this film. The story line though is quite lame. I did expect a lot more. But then I haven't really liked any of Woody Allen's films since 2000 expect for "Anything Else". But I will still remain one of his biggest fans and suffice it to say, I will keep watching his movies as long as he makes them.
Enough said!

Monday, September 18, 2006

"TASOGARE SEIBEI"
(THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI)

Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa

EIGA SAI: Contemporary Japanese Film Festival
Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex


Seibei Iguchi

You see the word "Samurai" in the title of a movie and naturally you would expect some menacing sword fighting action filled scenes. If you are into those type of Samurai movies then you better not stick around this film. You might get disappointed.

This film focuses on the daily existence of a low ranked Samurai named Seibei Iguchi who has been nicknamed "The Twilight Samurai". A derogatory term which signifies a frugal anti-social type of behavoir. Once his work is done he prefers to go home instead of socialising with his colleagues at entertainment houses. He is a devoted father who recently lost his wife to consumption, has 2 young daughters and a senile mother all struggling under his impoverished care. Yet he is content with his current state of affairs and never desires to go beyond his means. A hint of romance surfaces when the sister of his good friend suddenly finds herself divorced from a hapless man who maltreats her. Tomoe is a ravishing beauty who also happens to be one of Seibei's childhood friends. A lady of means far above Seibei's rank, she is like a breath of fresh air whenever she visits the Iguchi household. Yet conflicts arise which affects both their lives. Suddenly Seibei is torn between obeying the orders of his clan and his inner torment to maintain the same status quo in his life.

The film unfolds through the eyes of his daughter, Ito who narrates her father's story with such pride and joy. A very poignant tribute to the life of a simple man who had to adapt to changing times. We see her as a cute 5 year old who grows up without the proper guidance of a nurturing mother. Yet she remains as precocious and level headed as any child growing up in those ancient times in a historical period of Japan's development as a country. A period of transition where Samurais were revered right before the Meiji Restoration (the rise of the Empire and its mighty ruler, the Emperor).

This film is directed by Yoyi Yamada who is famous for his Tora San movies as well as period epics which showcases the lifestyle of the Samurai. It was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2003 Oscar Awards. I was lucky enough to have seen another Samurai film from the same director, "Hidden Blade" last year at the Cinemanila International Film Festival. I do notice a lot of similiarities in both movies with regards to his certain directing style. A technique which somehow gives me this feeling that I am watching an old black and white movie even though they are entirely in color. Scenes of their village, the flowing river, the little thatched house where Seibei and his family lived as well as the 'office' where he worked are shot in some dark tone. Minimal lighting effects perhaps to emphasize the characters more than the surroundings.

The highlight in "Twilight Samurai" would be the short fight scene sequence between Seibei and Zenemon Yogo, a Samurai retainer who battle it out in a little hut. Excellently executed, every slice of the sword pierces through your ears and your eyes are fixated on the blood that drips through their outfits. I believe that is the main turning point of this film. The defining moment in Seibei Iguchi's life not only as a Samurai but also as a man who redeems himself in society.

Hiroyuki Sanada portrays Seibei Iguchi with such firm conviction. You are really drawn towards his character. Viewers might recognize him as one of Katsumoto-San's (Ken Watanabe) main warriors in "The Last Samurai". Sanada is a big action star in Japan and has won many awards for his craft. But I was totally mesmerized by the little girl who portrayed his 5 year old daughter in the movie, she was totally adorable and very cute, you would think she was a porcelain doll.

I end by saying that sometimes it is good to watch a movie that has a firm development of characters, scenic visuals and has a solid storyline. A good period piece of an era and a tradition that has long been eradicated from the ultra modern Japanese society. Thank goodness we can still relive them through the silver screen.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"NINE SOULS"
Yoshio Harada, Ryuhei Matsuda, Itsue Itao, Kee, Jun Inoue

EIGA SAI: Contemporary Japanese Film Festival
Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex

9 Souls


The nine souls in this movie refer to the 9 prisoners in one cell who are incarcerated for various gruesome crimes. The movie though gets rolling once they manage to escape after they accidentally discover a path leading to their freedom. In normal circumstances, they would have gone their separate ways but I hate to think this film is anything but normal. The nine men journey on a road trip together towards a place where a former cellmate buried some 'treasure' in a time capsule. Their main destination is Mt Fuji Elementary School. Along the way, each character is introduced in different cinematic fashion, it captivates your full attention. I believe it is best seen to get my point so I won't venture into a detailed account of the characters.

"Nine Souls" is one of the most unique movies I've watched with a prison break theme. It is fascinating how different emotions surface by just watching a single movie. One moment you are laughing at a scene, the next you are shocked at the graphic violence. Then before you can even recover from the brutal scene, you feel sad over some tragic moment in the next sequence. Of course in a movie with nine characters to grab your attention, you tend to more or less sympathize with at least one of them. For me it was the story of the youngest prisoner, Michiru who was jailed for killing his father. The actor who portrays him has this very haunting look on his face. His facial expressions are as diverse as the languages spoken during a United Nations General Assembly session. Pay close attention to him, he holds the 'key' to the whole movie.

Each characters are well fleshed out yet you don't get all the facts in one go. The director feeds the audience bits and pieces of narratives behind their imprisonment. He chooses to reveal more about one escapee then just a passing glimpse on another character. Each actor (most if not all of whom I have never seen before in any film) who formed the ensemble cast give very good performances. Together as a whole, they clearly made a good effort in acting out a story line which is quirky in some ways yet completely poignant too in other ways.

Cinematography was top notch. We are shown images of rural Japan with an excellent backdrop of Mount Fuji in the distance then weaved through the crowded environs of bustling Tokyo. There were also very good camera angle shots of scenes I never thought was possible in a movie. The amazing fact is that it was all real scenes not computer generated at all. Ok except for the ending but by then you would totally agree that this particular scene merited some help from a computer.

I'm afraid I haven't revealed too much but it is one of the movies that is difficult to review simply because by attempting to write about it, you feel you are not doing justice to the film. So in conclusion, I really recommend this film. It has all the elements you can ask for from a good action movie or wait was it a comedy? You see? I'm not too sure what specific genre it fits into. Only word that comes to my mind is UNIQUE.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

"AKARUI MIRAI" (BRIGHT FUTURE)
Jo Odagiri, Tadanobu Asano, Tatsuya Fuji

EIGA SAI: Contemporary Japanese Film Festival
Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex

jellyfish



The first film I watched at this year's Japanese Film Festival. The theme for the festival this year is contemporary films. Thank God, this is more 'tolerable' because 2005's film selection was an array of various Japanese gory horror movies. I am not a horror flick fan, never was nor would I ever be one.

The synopsis is rather simple. 2 young guys are friends and they work in a factory which manufactures those hand towels wrapped in a plastic which people use in Asian restaurants. They share a common bond which tend to border on some weird ideas. Yuji is the 'dreamer' who sees himself having a good future based solely on his dreams. The other one Mamoru is more action oriented. His pet is a red jellyfish which he is slowly acclimatizing to fresh water so it can eventually survive in Tokyo even if we all know they are sea water creatures.

Yet the film is fraught with metaphors and laden with a lot of symbolic overtones. The disillusioned and disenfranchised youth with nary a thought on securing themselves a bright future. The huge generation gap between the young adults and their parents. The 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. The dreamers and the realists. The Che Guevara T-shirts worn by the young guys. A second chance at parenting for one of the main characters. The 'stuck in a boring job' situation. Even the jellyfish managed to symbolize something for what it's worth. But these points are all undermined with a quiet subtlety that seems only present in Japanese movies.

It is up to the viewer whether he associates certain scenes with its hidden meaning or to simply shrug his shoulders then just block it out of your frame of mind. If you choose the latter then you are in for a boring, seemingly no concrete plot film. It has some beautifully shot angles of the jellyfish infestation in the canals of Tokyo. That might seem like the only 'good' thing going for it, visual cinematic wise. The director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (not related at all to Akira) filmed some scenes using a hand held camera. So the texture of the film appear grainy and blurry. A bit amateurish in quality but it never betrays the fact that Kurosawa tried to make a point about the wasted potential of Japan's youth. He is mostly credited for those really gory/scary movies that Japanese cinema churns out like a franchise. He is the director of "Cure" "Charisma" and the film "Pulse" which just got remade (maybe bastarized) into a Hollywood horror film starring that "Veronica Mars" chick (I don't know her name). So for him to attempt to make "Bright Future" into this existential movie with spaced out characters trying to find meaning in their lives might be a rather bold gesture.

Frankly, I was grasping most of the time trying to connect the dots, so to speak. I tried to see this film as some glimpse into the restless mind of the Japanese youth in today's society. But while you sit there reading the subtitles, trying to figure the rationale behind the characters actions, you simply won't get it, right away. It is only after the film ends when you really analyze it (if you allow yourself that privilege) as you run some scenes in your mind that you sort of understand it in some surreal sense. How else would I now see a venomous red jellyfish as a powerful symbol of a bright future for the restless youth of the world in these troubled times? Or as some weapon of mass destruction trying to wreak havoc on society so that it can finally act and break free from its limitations and barriers? Actually there are many possible explanations for the mere presence of a jellyfish in this movie. So maybe just maybe this film did make an impact on me after all.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

"THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA"

Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Stanley Tucci, Adrian Grenier, Simon Baker

Miranda Priestly

Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex

My 10 main points about this movie:
1. I never read the book. Fortunately, I'm not into chick lit.

2. I think that Miranda Priestly was quite a reasonable boss. She is the editor of a fashion magazine for Pete's sake. Of course she will be a tyrant. It is a very stressful job. I don't think she was 'devilish' at all.

3. Size 6 is considered fat??? What on earth would I be then? Oh wait I know I'm a beached whale but then I don't work in the fashion industry either so bygones .... I don't really care.

4. I'm not a glam fashion conscious gal. I wouldn't know what it would feel like to wear Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo shoes. Nor can I tell if a bag was made by Marc Jacobs let alone what style/type of bag it is. So I didn't get all giddy over the fashion accessories shown in the movie.

5. Anne Hathaway is pretty in an elongated way. I mean she is tall, has flawless skin with a perky nose to boot. It was hard for me to believe she was this naive little fashion victim.

6. Meryl Streep was perfect for the role. Once in a while a role comes along where she is quite subdued and won't go into dramatic histrionics because come on you have to admit she tends to 'over act', sometimes. Her steely gaze in an attempt to appear 'devilish' achieved its purpose yet deep down you can also clearly see it was just a facade. Miranda is just like any normal human being who just wants to balance her successful career with a stable family life. Meryl Streep's portrayal gave Miranda Priestly a lot more personality. She wasn't merely just a cliche fashion editor. Good job!

7. Why is it that whenever a woman does good in her career, the main man in her life would feel insecure, whine and complain to death? Shouldn't they be happy for her? Pfft Men!!!

8. Paris is my favorite city in the whole world so it was really great that the film had some Parisian scenes. Never mind if it was mainly indoor shots, at least they showed the Eiffel Tower in all its glory so I was pleased as punch.

9. Stanley Tucci as the kind hearted gay art director was adorable. But then he always plays these sympathetic characters you can't help but silently cheer for.

10. "Dream a Little Dream of Me" by Beautiful South was sang in French and it is titled "Les Yeux Ouverts" [Opened Eyes]. I hope that despite the hectic fashion runways, the tall lanky models, the chic designer clothes and Miranda Priestly's arched eyebrows - people would clearly see the true essence of this film. A feel good tale of a naive young woman who never lost focus on what she really wanted to do with her life and went for it. Even if it meant she would wear her frumpy sweaters to work everyday.
Way to go, girl!

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

"EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED"

Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Jana Hrabetova

"Leave normal behind"


Sammy Davis Jr Jr



A quirky yet delightful film about a young man's quest to find a woman in his grandfather's past by journeying all the way to Ukraine. There he joins this heritage tour being run by a Ukrainian family. Their main selling point is a trip to the different villages where Jewish tourists go in order to trace their ancestors. It is basically a road trip movie where 3 completely diverse characters along with a dog named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. Embark on a journey of self discovery.

This movie is an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel and directed by the actor Liev Schreiber ("The Manchurian Candidate", "The Sum of all Fears") who is also of Ukrainian descent. I haven't read the book but I've heard of it and was really interested in watching the film. Thankfully I found a VCD of it selling for only P100 so now it is part of my private collection.

The film has really funny yet minimal dialogue courtesy of Alex Perchov, the Ukrainian guide who speaks in this thick broken English accent. He is an interesting character who is quite endearing in his own way. His grandfather is the driver throughout the road trip but he doesn't speak English so Alex has to translate for Jonathan. It is in the bad translation where most of the comic lines come forth. Jonathan is the young man who is a collector of family memories. The walls of his room are filled with various mementos like samples of hair, letters, tickets even dentures of his numerous relatives.

The pace of the film is rather slow yet picks up towards the end when everything is revealed. Several upbeat Russian/Ukrainian folk songs together with some Euro Techno Rock music permeates throughout the entire movie. Cinematography is quite panoramic. Shots of lush green villages for miles and miles amidst a single path of road are breathtakingly gorgeous. Do watch out for that scenic shot of rows of sunflower surrounding a single detach house - it was so vividly captured on film. It is a very beautiful camera angle.

Eugene Hutz who looks like a younger version of John Turturro is the front singer of a gypsy band but was compelled by the director to star as Alex Perchov. He did an excellent job and was quite convincing for a first time actor. Elijah Wood stars as Jonathan S. Foer (the author's alter ego) and his calm indifferent demeanor was perfect for the role. Although I do draw quite a comparison with his sinister role as Kevin in "Sin City". If you've seen that graphic comic book movie you will know who I am talking about. Kevin totally freaked me out. I had nightmares for several nights. But thankfully in "Everything is illuminated" Elijah Wood is not creepy at all just an eccentric person.

The beauty of this film lies in its simplistic approach in telling a tale about such tragic times (the persecution of Jews in Russia during the second World War). Liev Schreiber did a good job because he also wrote the screenplay for this film.
I believe that once in a while, it is important for people to trace their ancestry for it is in discovering certain 'secrets' that we are fully illuminated with what life is all about.

Friday, September 1, 2006

"PRIDE AND PREJUDICE"

Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Rosamund Pike, Donald Sutherland, Brenda Blethyn, Jena Malone

"Sometimes the last person on earth you want to be with is the one person you can't be without."

Mr Darcy and Ms Bennet


I remember vaguely watching a BBC mini series of Pride and Prejudice. It starred Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the lead roles. Yet it didn't really create such an impact on me. Either it was simply forgettable or my poor memory is catching up with my age.

This 2006 version of the Jane Austen book is certainly a film that I would remember for a long time. So I'm glad I bought it for my private collection so I can watch it everytime I am in the mood for some angst ridden romance.

I won't venture into the now familiar storyline. I'm pretty much sure everyone has read the novel at some point in their lives. Whether it was required for some school theme report or simply to peruse one boring rainy day. But to summarize - Mr and Mrs Bennet have 5 daughters who were raised in humble surroundings. Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia. All of them of marriage age and so Mrs Bennet is having sleepless nights trying to find them suitable husbands. Much of the story though focuses on Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bennet, a strong level headed girl who I like to believe thinks 'out of the box'. She encounters the arrogant stand offish Mr Darcy. Thus begin their little 'game'. Elizabeth is being prejudiced against because of her inferior circumstances while pride keeps Mr Darcy from actively pursuing the feisty Miss Bennet. Such drama and witty banter ensues and it is all so good to simply soak it all in!

This film is certainly a very good concise adaptation of the novel. It captures all the sharp witty dialogue. There is a good repartee among the actors. The plot develops at a steady pace. But most of all the gorgeous cinematography was top notch. Wow that simply blew my mind away. Most of the scenes looked like it was part of a very vividly bright painting. Such vibrant colors of lush manicured lawns, bright blue skies filled with clouds, the brocade design of the edifices, the magnificent shots of the balls in lavish mansions and the appropriate costumes befitting that era.

Keira Knightley portrayed a very convincing Lizzie Bennet. She delivered her lines effortlessly. Matthew Macfadyen as the pompous Mr Darcy came across as a more aloof version of Colin Firth which is just perfect if you ask me. Colin Firth was too charmingly handsome to really despise. There is this scene in the film where Mr Darcy is standing in the pouring rain and he confesses his love for Lizzie Bennet. It was really an intense moment you can feel his eyes piercing through the screen. It felt like he was actually pulling at your heart strings. Phew that was really powerful. He also delivered all his lines in such an impeccable fashion, you would think he really talks like that in real life. *Swoons*

I will end this piece by recommending you watch this film. It is worth it because in this fast paced life when we are constantly running after time to do a million things all at once, it is good to simply kick back once in a while and get lost in a period piece from another era which makes you wish life was simply one long fancy free romantic adventure.

 

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