Monday, October 30, 2006

"THE PRESTIGE"

Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo, Rebecca Hall

Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex

"A Friendship, That Became a Rivalry ...
A Rivalry, That Became a Battle."

abracadabra


If you are one of the few people on earth who truly understood the movie "Memento" then I am positive you won't have a difficult time grasping this latest Christopher Nolan masterpiece "The Prestige".

At the start of the movie, we are warned to watch closely so you better take that advice to heart. A good adaptation of a novel by Christopher Priest of the same title and masterfully scripted by the Nolan brothers - this film traces the lives of two magicians who are fiercely competitive with each other as well as obsessed with regaling people with innovative tricks to further hone their artistic talents as illusionists/magicians. It is also a study into the lives of two contrasting characters who despite being in the same industry are sustained by different circumstances in their existence to always aim to be the best in their field. Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) is the more skillful one but he lacks a flair for showmanship while Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) is the more flamboyant magician with questionable technical skills.

The film unfolds in the usual Nolan style of splicing the chronological sequence of the story with flashbacks then jumping to the present scene. A clever technique he has mastered in such a fluid manner you need to have all your senses intact to appreciate the crafty way it is displayed. Great costume design from the turn of the century fashion, the impeccably eloquent accents of the ensemble cast and engagingly well fleshed out characters all add to the great quality aspect of this film. The storyline is as fascinating as magic itself. Various conflicts arise, the dark subject matter deals with betrayal, obsession, distrust, deceit, jealousy, love and blind devotion to an art form. Authentic depiction of that bygone era is presented with tasteful cinematography. Scenes of big musty theaters with grand chandeliers, stagecoaches and steam engines as the central means of transportation are well documented. As well as that general squalid atmosphere that seems to permeate during those desperate times when peoples' idea of entertainment was to be awed by magic shows.

Intensely powerful performances from Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine. The women like Scarlett Johannson, Piper Perabo and Rebecca Hall are cast in small but significant roles. David Bowie as Nikola Tesla and Andy Serkis as Alley, Teslo's assistant were very credible in their roles even if it was in a supporting capacity.

I won't go into a lengthy review of the storyline simply because I don't want to spoil the thrill one gets upon watching this gripping film unfold on a wide screen in a dark theater. All I can say is it is like watching an electrifying magic show performed on stage. You see the tricks, you clap with awe then you leave the cinema with a million questions pondering in your fertile mind. Oh, you get the film alright. You know the fate of the characters, you form your own opinion on whether it was a good or bad ending. But you can't help yourself from analyzing the film endlessly and you can still come up with different interpretation of the events, every single time.

Now that is what I call a great movie!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

"THE SKELETON KEY"
Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard

"It can open any door"

HBO

Conjure of Sacrifice

There are two main reasons why I rather wait for movies to be shown on cable TV: (a) They are horror flicks. I scare easily so I rather watch them in the comfort of my living room where I can switch channels if I get too frightened! (b) The plot doesn't particularly grab my attention so I won't waste my precious money on them. This simply implies I may be a cinephile but I am also cheap so I won't go watch a film just for the heck of it.

"The Skeleton Key" was on my list of horror flicks. The others being "The Jacket", "Saw 2" and "Hide and Seek". Fortunately for me, HBO showed it earlier tonight. It has a good cast with believable performances from Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt and Peter Sarsgaard. It is set in the outskirts of New Orleans and it deals with some voodoo, hoodoo stuff. Don't ask me the difference I wouldn't know. Characters with names like Papa Justify, Mama Cecile and Violet Devereaux, very Creole tinged with good old Southern charm.


The premise is simple enough - a young woman (Kate Hudson who I think might have been pregnant while filming the movie. I noticed she had more flesh to her skinny frame and a little bump in her belly) is hired to take care of an old man supposedly paralyzed by a stroke. She moves in with the couple and is given a skeleton key which apparently opens every single door in the creaky house except of course the ubiquitous attic. Of course, she starts snooping around the attic trying to find the dirty little secrets it hides, poking her nose into things which aren't any of her business. Soon enough she gets embroiled in the whole darkness which envelops the house and its inhabitants. Dramatically the film ends with a clever yet morbid little twist which in my utter state of confusion I wasn't able to decipher right away. Confusion brought about by the fact that I wasn't paying close attention to the film 'cause I was busy eating my dinner in front of the telly.

The film has its standard creepy moments like doors rattling in the attic, voodoo mambo jumbo-ness but mostly it doesn't really make you scream out with fright. The whole cinematography is dark and gloomy which is understandable for the movie to have its horror flick effect. Climate is rather morose both weather wise and the mood of the characters. It is well acted though which may be the only salvation in this rather forgettable film. Nothing spectacular though just one of those movies which make you shrug your broad little shoulders with a nonchalance attitude and just chalk it to something to watch on a boring Saturday night - a 'microwave dinner' film.

Monday, October 23, 2006

"THE GUARDIAN"
Kevin Costner, Ashton Kutcher, Sela Ward, Clancy Brown, John Heard, Neal McDonough

"When lives are on the line, sacrifice everything"

Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex

There is a legend of a man under the sea. A fisher of men. He is called the Guardian.


I have always been ambivalent towards Kevin Costner and Ashton Kutcher. I mean I don't really like them but I don't hate them either. They have done some good films such as "Field of Dreams" (Costner) and "The Butterfly Effect" (Kutcher). As well as really lousy ones like "Rumor has It" (Costner) and "Dude, Where's my Car?" (Kutcher). So put the two of them together in one film and what do you get? A well made movie with a solid script, coherently directed with a good paced scenario. Some lines that deserve a chuckle or two and a subject matter that focuses on an agency that is duty bound to save and rescue endangered lives in times of maritime disasters. Hmm ok so maybe the two actors had little to do with it - their acting was ok but I guess it helps that you have a lot of good factors playing out in your favor.

The first hour and a half concentrates on the gruelling training session of the new recruits of the Coast Guard. We are given a glimpse into the various stages of swimming lessons, breathing exercises, practice sessions with the necessary heavy paraphernalia/equipment as well as simulated rescue scenarios. It is all really interesting stuff to absorb. The film thoroughly researched the mechanics involved in being a Coast Guard swimmer/rescuer. Of course the bonding moments ensues between the trainees and their instructors. Naturally, Hollywood needs to throw in a female character so lead actor # 1 (Kutcher) can have some romantic scenes. While lead actor # 2 (Costner) needs to be this conflicted and flawed person battling his demons and marital woes. Conflicts always provide good dramatic 'feeling sorry for myself' moments.

Some highlights of the last few minutes of the film are on the few daring rescue missions after lead character number 1 is now officially a member of the Coast Guard. In my opinion, they should have given less airtime to the training and focus more on actual maritime rescue efforts. But overall, I think the film did justice to the valiant efforts and heroic stance of the Coast Guard in general. It is almost like a recruitment advertisement for more young guys to join the program. So given that it was a rather long movie and most of the time you have this urge to run to the bathroom to answer the call of nature due to all the wet scenes of swimming pools and the vast deep ocean, I can say the film was fairly entertaining and a good way to waste 2 hours of your time.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"WORLD TRADE CENTER"
Nicholas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal

"The world saw evil that day. Two men saw something else."

Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex

September 11, 2001




It was my birthday so even if I was battling severe stomach cramps after days of feeling really lousy due to a stomach flu - I went out to keep a tradition going. The fact that I watch a Nicholas Cage movie on my birthday. That is of course if there is one showing at the theaters on October 19. I recall fondly watching "Windtalkers", "Matchstick Men" and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" during my previous birthdays. So I was in luck that "World Trade Center" opened on the eve of my special day.


Now on to the film. It is a bit difficult to write a review of a film that chronicles the event of something as horrifying as the 9/11 tragedy. Especially without sounding like as a cynical callous person when the film doesn't go down favorably with my own interpretation of what a film about that event should be all about. For me it lacked the poignancy factor, the one aspect that would pull at your heartstrings, the one that would trigger your tear ducts to fall down your cheeks.

Ok fair warning, I am going to mention some spoilers which I hate to do but it is inevitable as I need to emphasize some points. The first 45 minutes of the film was pretty intense. Oliver Stone was able to capture the raw essence of that fateful day as it first unfolded. The shadow of the plane against the building as it is about to crash against the World Trade center is a very powerful image that is hauntingly eerie. Then the total chaotic scenes of debris falling all over the streets of New York as people scrambled out of the way trying to flee from the two Towers was very captivating. It felt like Oliver Stone was actually there on that unfortunate day rolling his cameras to capture the disaster. But after the Towers actually collapses on the two main characters, the film becomes dull. We are shown scenes of flashbacks of happier times with their families interspersed with the two cops prepping each other up while trapped inside the rubble as well as the rescue efforts to find any survivors. I have no problem with the execution of these scenes, they were coherent and well paced. The flashbacks are necessary, I have to admit that.


But my main issue is how cheesy and corny some of the scenes were. Throwing in a lone rogue Marine to act as some hero, making him as some sort of Messiah who avenges the attacks by re-enlisting in the Marine Corps to fight in Iraq is like a propaganda for the US Military. Showing scenes of a blurry Jesus Christ with a mineral bottle as some way to depict the act of going towards the light for the hallucinating cops is just plain tacky. I understand that it is a movie about two cops, two persons who survived to tell their stories and that they were closely collaborating with Oliver Stone himself during the making of the film but somehow it came across as being just about the two of them. How about the other lives that were lost in that tragedy? The film merely brushed on the subject by focusing on a wall lined up with pictures of the missing people who died on that day. He also didn't focus enough on the valiant efforts of the rescuers, Instead it came across as the Marine dude was the only soul brave enough to go through the rumble at night. Even though we know for a fact that the rescue teams never stopped even to the detriment of their health

Acting wise, Michael Pena was pretty convincing. He even outshined Nicholas Cage. It is understandable though that Nicholas Cage couldn't do much given the fact that it was mostly his head that was visible under all that rubble. Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal as the frantic wives of the two cops wavered between overacting as in hysterical outbursts to underacting with scenes done with subdued fluency.


Overall, this film didn't seem like an Oliver Stone film. He didn't come up with some conspiracy theory nor did he aim to explain who were truly responsible for those barbaric acts. No grandstanding posturing involved at all. He simply wanted to tell the story of two ordinary cops who experienced such a daunting upheaval in their lives, so it worked in that aspect with brilliant accuracy.

But with a movie entitled "World Trade Center" I guess I expected a lot more to be revealed and a lot more dramatics to highlight such a tragic event. But maybe we are not really ready to see that on the silver screen. The wound is still a bit raw. It has only been 5 years. We still need a few more years to truly heal yet at the same time, I don't think we should ever forget how the whole world changed since that fateful day - September 11, 2001.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

"ELSA Y FRED"
("ELSA AND FRED")

5th Spanish Film Festival
Audience Choice
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3

This adorable Argentinean film was chosen as the Audience Choice during the last evening of the 5th Spanish film festival.

So while the earlier Argentinean film (which I reviewed below) lacked any sense of poignancy, "Elsa & Fred" oozed with it. It is a love story set in Madrid between two elderly people. Elsa is a dreamer who seems to have a positive outlook in life and lives her life to the fullest. One day, Alfredo (Fred) moves into the next apartment. A recent widower who is a hypochondriac and prefers to keep himself isolated within the confines of his well furnished apartment. Elsa proceeds to befriend him and sets out to make him fall for her. Their encounters together are refreshingly sweet even at their advanced age. Their chemistry is sparkling even though they have opposite personalities. Elsa makes Fred live again while Fred indulges Elsa's fantasies.

The dialogue is witty and funny. The mature actors are very convincing and quite talented. They are very natural in their acting. Elsa's wardrobe is impeccably chic while Fred is a dapper well groomed gentleman with great taste. Cinematography is panoramic as we are shown scenes of Madrid as well as Rome, Italy. Plot is crisp and well scripted. It is one of those films where you can't help but go "awww" everytime there is a sweet moment unfolding between Elsa and Fred. Yet at the same time there is a tinge of sadness and melancholy because you know that Elsa and Fred don't have much time to enjoy each other's company. But on the other hand, you also rejoice that despite the time constraints, they were able to find each other in their twilight years. They made each other really happy as a couple but most importantly as individuals with still unfulfilled dreams and fantasies.

A nice feel good movie that tells us that love no matter how old we get will always make our hearts a flutter and make us smile with fondness. A very good Audience Choice if I may say so myself. An appropriate way to end this year's Spanish Film Festival. =)

"NO SOS VOS, SOY YO"
("IT'S NOT YOU, IT'S ME")

5th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3

Javi and Maria


Today was the last day of the Spanish film festival. I am amazed how popular this film festival has become, I remember last year there were a lot of empty seats. This year I had to practically camp out and line up way in advanced so I could get seats, it was full house during all of the screenings.


This Argentinean film is about Javier (Javi for short) and Maria. A couple living in Buenos Aires who dream of settling down in the US to pursue the American dream. They rush their marriage, arrange Maria's papers so she can go ahead of him to settle things and he will follow her in a few months. Simple enough. They are like any normal couple with dreams of making a good life. Conflicts arise when Maria phones him from the US to tell him she has met someone else and it would be better if he doesn't go to the US at all. So poor Javi is practically homeless, jobless and naturally distraught and heart broken. The film shows us how he deals with his 'problem'.


The movie is set in Buenos Aires. The plot has been done countless times in several movies but this is shown with an easing simplicity. There are some funny scenes which merit a few chuckles but mostly I found it rather sad. Well isn't it always sad when someone has to learn to move on after dealing with a traumatic break up?


I have to admit I expected a lot more from this movie, it didn't really scratch much off the surface of a delicate subject matter. I wanted it to be more analytical, more dialogue driven like some existential feature. A more gritty tale about loneliness and yearning. A tale of how someone copes with the harrowing experience of being 'abandoned' in life. But no, this film wasn't any of that. Maybe it never really wanted to deal with all those heavy meanderings, it just wanted to tell the story in a light hearted manner of one man's way of healing his conflicted soul.

Fair enough.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"EL METODO"
("EL METODO GRONHOLM")
"THE GRONHOLM METHOD"

5th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3

Gronholm Method

The film starts with a split screen showing us scenes of the different characters as they start their day. The radio and the programs on TV informs us that on that day, the IMF summit begins in Madrid. So there are going to be street protesters marching in the streets therefore people are told to be more vigilant and expect some chaos. So after providing us a good backgrounder via images of chaotic street scenes, the film takes on its normal format, the director focuses on an office.

Throughout the entire film, there is only one scene. A boardroom in a modern posh office. There are also only 8 characters, if you include the secretary. The other 7 characters are all job applicants for the same high paying position in a top firm. We are not told the exact position they are applying for. Thus begins a very intense analysis of each of the applicants using what is known as the Gronholm Method. A human resource strategy supposedly developed in the US. This method pits the candidates against each other through a series of tests wherein they (the applicants themselves) eliminate the weakest link from the group. In the process, it becomes a race, a survival of the fittest. Each candidate is very qualified. They are successful in their respective careers, all of them driven and ambitious. Yet the test somehow manages to weed out their individual weaknesses, their flaws to the point where it gets pretty brutal and even resorts to insults on their personality. So while there are some background noise of loud protests in the streets below, up on that 35th floor office, a different kind of warfare is brewing - among the severn very well qualified candidates for that one position. It gets dirty, it gets personal, it is compelling to watch.

The film is based on a famous play about different interview jobs. It does a very good job in drawing out the 7 main characters. It is well acted by a bunch of good looking actors and actresses. It is gripping and fascinating to watch, to see just how far certain people are willing to compromise just to land themselves a good job. It is a no holds barred situation. Each character is well fleshed out. Each scene as dramatic as the next. Never a dull moment until the very end when only one candidate is chosen or rather wins the job.

I recommend this film because it is a good showcase on the different psyche of people. A good analytical view of humanity, best characterized by a diverse group of people bunched up together for a single purpose - to land a high paying job. It is amazing how one single setting (in this case a boardroom in an office) can bring out different scenarios.

Watch it. It is worth it, believe me!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"THE DEPARTED"
Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Leonardo di Caprio, Martin Sheen, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin, Ray Winstone, Vera Farmiga

"Lies. Betrayal. Sacrifice. How far will you take it?"

Cinema 6, SM Megamall

Boston




I took a break from the still ongoing Spanish film festival to get sucked into an action filled, suspenseful Hollywood film.


Here are my thoughts on "The Departed"  in bullet form:

  • I know it is Hollywood's version of a HongKong flick called "Infernal Affairs".  A film I haven't seen yet nor do I intend to see it since I'm not really into that sort of movies. 
  • The first part of the movie is as usual the introduction of the different characters, their background and where you sort of establish some rapport with their fate.  Whether you get engaged into their life story and whom you would be silently rooting for.  Martin Scorsese has developed really good visuals for us to immediately pick out our favorites.
  • The middle part it seems things slow down a bit to the point where you wonder if things will pick up and start to get really nasty.   The wheelings and dealings are already familiar territory so you try not to doze off.  Yeah I know how can I doze off during a Scorsese movie?  Blasphemous!  Heh
  • Now the last part maybe for about 30 minutes is when the shit hits the fan.   I mean wow bodies start piling up, you stay glued to the screen, awaiting the intense gripping moments of who gets killed next.   Fact paced, gritty action.  Now that's more like it!
  • The bevy of talented actors is what sustained the movie, imho.  If the roles fell into the hands of mediocre actors, I'm afraid the movie would have fallen flat on the ground and be stomped like a bug.   Even the supporting roles of Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg were intensely captivating.
  • The dialogue was top notch.  I don't know why foul language uttered in movies simply crack me up all the time.  Something really realistic about it, I guess.  Let's face it, people really do use the *F* word a lot in normal conversations so for them to utter it like it was a common derivative is refreshing to watch. Well I meant those type of people -  the ones in the law enforcement agencies as well as the gangster types.  I especially like the ra ta tat foul mouthed spiel that Mark Wahlberg essayed with gusto everytime he was in a scene. 
  • One question though is why did Scorsese cast an actress who simply couldn't act if her life depended on it?   Vera what's her name was very rigid and ineffectual that I kept thinking she didn't really have to be in the movie at all.  
  • Inevitably Matt Damon and Leo di Caprio would be pitted against each other and compared and analysed incessantly.  But I think that they are both in different leagues.  Matt Damon has established himself as the ordinary guy who if worse comes to shove does heroic things and delivers most of the time.  His roles in the Bourne Identity series testifies to this endeavour effortlessly.  While Leo has the leading man good looks, the romantic lead that rescues damsels in distress pitch working for him everytime.  I am also quite relieved that he has grown up to be a mature actor, beyond his baby face good looks. The way he knots his eyebrows to show some intense emotions is very good and it simply pierces through the screen like a sharp edged razor.
  • Jack Nicholson is the very heart and soul of this movie.  His Frank Costello is right up there along with Joe Pesci's Tommy DeVito in "Goodfellas" and Daniel Day Lewis' Bill Cutting in "Gangs of New York".  Forceful, in your face characters that will be revered in cinematic history.

Finally, I think the movie is a good vehicle to showcase Scorsese's comeback after a long absence. The plot is solidly coherent, the dialogue is realistic and the ensemble cast is quite convincing in their respective roles.    A good suspenseful, action packed film that is worth your hard earned bucks. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"NINETTE"

5th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


The second movie during the featured director's (Jose Luis Garci) night at this year's Spanish film festival is a light farcical comedy simply entitled "Ninette". Alexandra or Ninette as she is called is a liberated French girl born to leftist Spanish parents who immigrated to Paris, France. She works at Galeries Lafayette, this huge department store in Paris. One day, Andres, a comely man from Murcia, Spain goes to Paris for a visit. By some twist of fate, his friend Armando books him a room at the apartment of Ninette's parents. It is Andres' s first time in Paris so he wants to experience the Parisian lifestyle as much as possible. But it seems Ninette has other plans for Andres.

This movie is adapted from two plays by Miguel Mihura. "Ninette and the Gentleman from Murcia" and "Ninette, Paris Fashion." Miguel Mihura (1905 - 2005) is one of the greatest humorists and dramatists of the 20th century. He boldly attempts to make a comparison between the two countries, in terms of fashion, ideologies, political leanings and life in general. Ninette's parents Monsieur Pierre and Madame Barnarda have pretty socialist/communist leanings with posters of Lenin hanging on the wall of their apartment in Paris. Yet they still remain true Spaniards in their hearts and constantly talk about the motherland with affection. Andres becomes their link to their past, while Ninette personifies everything modern and spontaneous in the chosen second home, Paris.


The whole movie is shot indoors. It has a theater feel to it since after all it is based on plays. Jose Luis Garci captures the romantic, amusing and sometimes funny essence of this light comedy, perfectly. Although there were some parts which I thought come out as being too theatrical in nature. After a while, the drab scenery of the interiors became too claustrophobic for me. I wished the atmosphere would suddenly change and breathe in some refreshing shots of my favorite city in the whole world. But alas, it isn't so.

The dialogue is quite simple. It was fun to hear the characters speak French with a thick Spanish accent. They would also combine their sentences with French words while speaking in Spanish. A really common thing to do, if you are bilingual.


You really need to be a theater afficionado to appreciate this film.
Or else, the only reason you will stay glued to the screen would be the alluring screen presence of Elsa Pataky as the mesmerizing "Ninette". The young woman who somehow 'hypnotized' poor Andres to stay indoors with her in their stuffy apartment when one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world beckoned him with her numerous attractions.

What a fool!

"HISTORIA DE UN BESO"
("THE STORY OF A KISS")

5th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3

Don Blas y Andrea




Today I saw a double feature of the famous Spanish director Jose Luis Garci's masterpieces. The first one was shown at 4:30 pm. A poignant romantic film entitled "The Story of a Kiss". This film traces the love stories of two individuals. Don Blas Otamendi, a renowned literary figure and his nephew Julio.

From the very first scene of a snowy bleak afternoon when the whole community learns of Don Blas's death till the very last scene of a snow filled gravesite where Julio bids a tender farewell to his beloved uncle, you are enveloped with a certain poignancy that permeates throughout this film. Each scene reflects a certain warmth that exudes through the screen even though the cinematography is a bit dark and bleak. The dialogue is filled with several references to some personalities in the Spanish literary world as well as people famous during that generation like Albert Einstein.

Don Blas' narration of his encounter with Andrea, the younger lady he eventually falls in love with has a tinge of sadness and melancholy attached to it. While Julio's encounter Bea, on the other hand is fraught with the hopeful aura of a first love. We are shown flashback scenes of Julio as a young boy when he used to vacation in his uncle's place as well as scenes of Don Blas secretive 'love' affair with the much younger Andrea. The director used a clever technique of interspersing both stories in a very fluid flow that the whole movie just glides on by so smoothly. I am somehow reminded of the movie "Doctor Zhivago". It seems to capture the same rich texture of a love story that will endure through the times. A classical rendition of the song "Fascination" accompanies each scene that Don Blas and Andrea are together. Their fascinating encounters which simply consists of talking in the park, in the ballroom or sharing a meal together are very heart warming. It is refreshing to know that love can bloom between two very different people without being physical. That their love was pure and fresh yet in some ways it was very sad that they couldn't be together.

The film is a very dialogue driven one. Conversations abound. Friends gathering around the table to talk about anything under the sun. Lovers talking about their dreams, their hopes and their desires. The plot does move at a slow pace yet you hardly notice the minutes ticking by because it is all presented in a very coherent manner.

I know that not everyone will appreciate this sort of film. But once in a while it is refreshing to simply get lost in a quality film that brings back memories of a golden era in the art of Cinema. A period wherein a story was well crafted, the actors are believable and the main theme deals with a very basic yet classic subject - LOVE sans the distracting computer generated images that seem to be the norm nowadays.

I conclude with a few lines from the haunting song that would now always remind me of this classic film:

It was fascination, I know
And it might have ended at the start.
A passing glance, a brief romance
And I might have gone on my way empty-hearted, empty-hearted
It was fascination, I know
Seeing you under the moonlight above, baby
And I touch your hand and I kiss you
and fascination turned to love

Sunday, October 8, 2006

"TAPAS"

5th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3

Moon River

You would think that a film entitled "TAPAS" would be peppered with a lot of food. But nope, it isn't. Although it does feature a Tapas bar/restaurant, food isn't the only issue portrayed in this film.

It focuses on a small neighborhood in the suburbs of Barcelona. It shows us the daily travails of its working class inhabitants. Each of them have hidden secrets which are slowly revealed to the viewer.

You have Dona Conchi, an elderly woman who is a drug pusher. Raquel, a separated woman who finds love over the Internet. Cesar and Opo, 2 young guys who dream about getting laid during the summer. The owner of the Tapas restaurant, Lolo who hides the fact that his wife (the cook) left him so he has to hire a quirky Chinese guy named Mao to do the cooking. It all takes place within a little community during one of the hottest summers in the history of Spain.

It is a simple film that shows us a side of Barcelona that the ordinary tourist or visitor won't get the chance to see. The daily existence of a group of people who deal with loneliness and melancholy yet strive to live life the best way possible. The director just presents you a genuine portrayal of how people go about their daily lives. Not making any grand statement on whether what the old lady does is good or bad. Nor does tell us whether it is possible to find love over the Internet. It is just there for us to see and absorb. Whether we agree or not is not up to us either because we know from the film that that is just how life is in that little part of the world.

It is also interesting to note that the song "Moon River" still resonates a certain romantic poignancy even when it is shown in a Spanish film. A truly classic song to complement a simple light hearted film that tugs at your heart strings.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

"SERES QUERIDOS"
("ONLY HUMAN")

5th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3

Rafi

I might as well bring a sleeping bag to camp out at the Greenbelt cinemas so I can watch as many Spanish films as possible.

This comedy about an 'interracial' romance is rip roaringly hilarious. It has been ages since I laughed this much while watching a movie.

Leni Dali, a perky redhead returns home to introduce her fiance to her family. Her Jewish family is composed of her workaholic father, a typical nagging mother, her single mother sister is a belly dancer at a restaurant and her younger brother recently started practising his Jewish faith more diligently after he saw "Fiddler on the Roof". Completing the family is her blind Holocaust survivor grandfather and her spoiled brat niece. The setting is their cosy 7th floor apartment. Everything seems to go well except when Leni reveals to her family that not only is Rafi (her fiance) an Israeli, he is in fact, a Palestinian. The ruckus that unfolds as the whole family is turned upside down is really worth watching.

Funny scenes are mostly in the dialogue as well as the silly antics they all get into. Eventually the glaring differences between the two lovers arises, especially when they argue about their respective religious beliefs. The setting is mainly in the apartment of this crazy yet endearing family.

Guillermo Toledo is one of the most convincingly funny Spanish actors I've seen on screen. His role in "Crimen Ferpecto" which I watched at last year's Spanish Film Fest proves he has great comedic timing. His portrayal of Rafi as the Palestinian who has fully immersed into the Spanish culture is brilliant. He totally captured it to a T. Heh I should know my ex boyfriend was Palestinian too but he wasn't Spanish. The rest of the cast were all quite good in making their characters quite endearing to the audience. Dsyfunctional and all, they were still very vibrantly humane and had genuine personalities.

I truly recommend this film! It is poignant, socially relevant, wacky, really hilarious and proves that love does conquer all.

Friday, October 6, 2006

"PIEDRAS"
("STONES")

5th Spanish Film Fest
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3

Adela


The second movie I caught at the ongoing Spanish film fest at Greenbelt 3 cinemas is a tale of 5 distinctly different women. Women from a wide spectrum of society, each one dealing with various problems and set in the beautiful city of Madrid. All of them loosely connected to each other in more or less the same way.

Adela is a single mother and a brothel coordinator. Anita is the autistic/retarded child of Adela. Isabel is a rich socialite trapped in a doomed marriage with a shoe fetish. Leire is a young woman who works 2 jobs while trying to move on after a break up. MariCarmen is a taxi driver and a step mother to her late husband's three children.

The flow of the movie is very fluid. A scene at the brothel for instance slides through smootly to the next scene involving another character, quite effortlessly. Conflicts of all sorts arise. Heartbreak, loneliness, sadness, feelings of inadequacy, the desire to be loved, as well as the acceptance of harsh realities. Pretty common emotions yet each of them are perfectly portrayed by different scenarios and situations. These are strong albeit deeply complex and flawed women who try to understand the meaning of life. They cope with various obstacles that arise from these conflicts. Whether they face it head on or take a U turn, it is always fascinating to watch how people deal with obstacles.

Great acting from all of the actresses. Character development is very well defined. The beautiful city of Madrid is the silent witness to the struggles of these women. Narration is provided by one of the women. I like movies with narration, it feels like they are directly addressing us, the viewer. It makes it more intimate and personal. There is also an analogy between the shoes they wear and how it represents their personalities. As for the main title, 'Stones' well I like to think that they are the path or stepping stones on which these women tread daily as they live their lives the best way they can. I know it might come across as some chick flick but I think that it goes beyond that. More importantly it is a very good movie on the human persona. Probably inspired by those Pedro Almodovar movies which explores and celebrates the lives of women, this film succeeds brilliantly in its aim.

A movie with soul ... and sole, too!

"PERDER ES CUESTION DE METODO"
"THE ART OF LOSING"

5th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3

Victor Silampa
After watching 2 films at the German Film Festival, it was time to cross over to the Spanish and Latin American Films Fest.

This movie was shot entirely in Bogota, Colombia. Basically a whodunit mystery fraught with shady characters all intertwined in a murky web of murder, corruption, deceit and mayhem. The main protagonist is a journalist/reporter for the daily newspaper, The Observer. Victor Silampa is assigned by an overbearing Colonel in the Police Department to investigate a murder so that he can write an exclusive story for the paper. Thus begin a wild goose chase across the city. He encounters various dubious characters as he unfolds the nitty gritty details behind the gruesome crime.

The film offers us a glimpse into the daily nuances of people who live in one of the most vibrant cities in the world - Bogota, Colombia. Funny scenarios take place in some of the most bizarre places like a nudist club, a disco style nightclub complete with hookers in all shapes and sizes and even a grave site. A film with a merry bunch of crooked yet fascinating characters like a sensual underaged prostitute, a corrupt Councilman, a cheating lawyer, a shady businessman and even an insane mentor confined in some mental institution. It has its funny moments combined with violent scenes. A few nudity here and there nothing vulgar really just all graphically well done. Action is fast paced, there is always something going on. So while the plot is a bit wacky what with all the numerous players involved in the scenes, it is still tolerable enough to watch. If only to piece together the various puzzles in this mysterious thriller.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

"GOOD BYE, LENIN!"
Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sab, Chulpan Khamatova, Maria Simon

"The German Democratic Republic lives on -- in 79 square meters"

German Film Festival
Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex

Aufweidesen Lenin




It was a good decision to practically camp out at the mall so I could catch two German films in a row. It would have been a pity if I missed watching this film.

It is a deeply poignant tribute of a young man named Alex who protects his fragile mother from knowing the truth. The year is 1989, the setting is the former East Berlin. Alex's mother just woke up from a coma after 8 months. She has partial long and short term memory loss. Being the hard line socialist that she was/is, Alex doesn't think she will be able to handle the events which led to the fall of the Berlin wall and the eventual reunification of the city. The invasion of capitalism, the advent of unemployment and every little problem that arose after the fall of communism. So he turns her bedroom into a shrine, peppering it with icons of the past era. He feeds her food items no longer available in post Communist Berlin. He rummages all over town for empty jars of the brands which went obsolete since the fall of Communism. Taking pains to ensure she never finds out the numerous changes of present day Berlin.

This is a funny, sad, quirky film. Well in fact it deals with various emotions. In some ways, Alex presents us with a socialist world that he wishes still existed. He seems to be dealing and delving in the past most of the time. His concept of a 'perfect' socialist world in some ways makes him block out the very different existence that the whole Eastern part of the city has been sucked into quite harshly. I found Alex to be a very conflicted person although it seems like he is merely being practical for his mother's sake. Yet he is also quite mature for a young man and he handled everything quite well.

Good bye Lenin is a good showcase of the fall of Communism in Germany. An event which triggered the rest of Europe to jump off the Communist bandwagon. But more importantly it is a beautiful tale of a son's undying love for his mother. A mother who survived against all odds to raise her children single handedly and give them a good life. With a premise like that you can't go wrong, at all. Factor in really pertinent historical events like the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and you have one good social commentary on the pitfalls of coping with drastic life altering changes.
Be it a change in ideology or simply a change in one's lifestyle.

"ALLES AUF ZUCKER!"
("GO FOR ZUCKER!")

Henry Hubchen, Hannelore Esner, Udo Samuel, Anja Franke, Rolf Hoppe

German Film Festival
Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex

Zuckerman

Jaeckie Zucker, a former East German sports announcer in his hey days is basically down on his luck. His wife wants a divorce, his children are alienated from him and he faces arrest if he doesn't settle his debts amounting to a whooping 44,500 Euros. His mother who he hasn't seen in ages, dies. Her inheritance is to be distributed between her two sons. Unfortunately, Samuel and Jaeckie haven't spoken nor seen each other in 40 years. The brothers are complete opposites. Samuel is a succesful yet traditional Orthodox Jew with a closely knit family. Jaeckie, on the other hand has completely renounced his Jewish faith and has a huge gambling problem. If only way out is to get his share of his mother's inheritance. Yet easier said than done. His mother has strictly stated in her will, 5 very important rules before her estate is to be divided between the two brothers.
Would they be able to adhere to her last wishes? Or would they continue to take the stubborn path to self destruction? Those are the main questions which will be revealed in a rather ambiguous ending.

Sibling rivalry, filial responsibilities and social conflicts among the characters are some of the points strongly explored in this witty and funny film. The ensemble cast fleshed out well developed characters. But kudos really goes to the actor who plays Jaeckie Zucker, he was very convincing as the down trodden loser who still keeps taking chances and risks. The concise plot is fast paced. It flows constantly with conflicts arising on several occasions. A witty dialogue adds to the comedic nature of this film. It is also an interesting look into the deeply rooted customs and traditions of the Jewish faith. As well as provide a good glimpse of snippets of life in Germany in this post Communist era.

The main reason why I like to watch foreign movies a lot is to see how people in other parts of the world live, love as well as deal with conflicts. Thanks to foreign film festivals I can do that without traveling half way across the globe.

Monday, October 2, 2006

"FLYBOYS"
James Franco, Martin Henderson, David Ellison, Jean Reno, Jennifer Decker

Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex

Lafayette Escadrille


After going through the horrific experience of enduring 4 days and 3 nights without electricity due to the recent devastating typhoon Melenyio, it was refreshing to simply sit back in a dark theater to be entertained by a bunch of guys flying around in fighter planes during the first World War.

Flyboys is the story of ordinary American guys with different backgrounds who volunteer to train as fighter pilots in France during the first World War. A brief period in history when America wasn't actively involved yet in the battles that raged across Europe. They join a squadron known as Lafayette Escadrille, a unit in the French military.

The film starts by introducing us to each of the characters. Then it moves along by subjecting the viewer to their actual training in the luscious fields of Verdun, France. Their escapades as well as their battles way up in the blue skies over Germany pretty much form the rest of the movie. Excellently choreographed scenes of dogfights in the air between the Lafayette Escadrille squadron versus the German fighter planes is one of the highlights of this movie, well let me say the ONLY redeeming value. Their sneaky attempt at a love story angle between the lead actor and a local French woman fell flat. I don't know why they even bothered to include it. Trying to romanticize a film is just so cliche. But for me the film really perked up whenever they showed those battle scenes up in the skies. My natural instinct was to predict which of the pilots would die, how they would perish and also silently rooting for the squad whenever they were engaged in fierce battle with those menacing German fighter planes in the sky.

Character development is well acted out by actors like James Franco, Martin Henderson (woot what a mesmeric presence on screen) and of course the ubiquitous French actor in Hollywood movies, Jean Reno. Although I have to admit it, we are not really drawn to their characters unlike this other war film about the crew of a bomber plane called the "Memphis Belle" which I totally loved. I swear I can quote lines from that movie by heart. Hehe :D In "Flyboys", there are scenes where they speak in French without any English subtitles but being a Francophile I understood the dialogue. Not that it matters really because you can grasp the meaning from the scene itself. I just found it strange that they couldn't come up with a better title than the lame sounding "Flyboys". Plot wise it is pretty predictable even though it was inspired by a true story. To add some credibility they show us a few lines regarding the lives of the 'boys' after the war as the end credits roll by.

Overall, the movie had the necessary entertainment value it needed to amuse audiences. It was a thrill to watch action scenes up in the sky as opposed to those loud John Woo car crashing in loud explosions types.

In short, I was fully entertained, so be it.

 

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