Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"TSUNAMI: THE AFTERMATH"
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Okonedo, Tim Roth, Toni Collette, Hugh Bonneville

HBO

December 26, 2004


December 26, 2006 marks the second year anniversary of the Asian tsunami which devastated 12 countries. Most severely damaged were the coastal villages of Thailand and Indonesia. Last night, HBO in collaboration with the BBC aired this two part mini series about the disaster entitled Tsunami: the Aftermath.

This being a BBC production, it naturally focused on the British nationals who were affected by the tsunami. 5 different angles about a group of fictional characters whose stories were intertwined with each other. Although fictional they were inspired by accounts and interviews of some survivors of the disaster.

The ones which created significant impact to me personally are the tales of the journalist and the British Consulate official.
Tim Roth plays a journalist for a news agency. He is portrayed as being insensitive, quite a risk taker willing to do anything to get a scoop. His need to expose the story behind the tragedy does make some starkling revelations. He stumbles upon the scenes of some officials of the Thai government selling the lands of the displaced villagers to the big hotel chains for a considerable amount of profit. He witnesses the mass cremation of some bodies by the Buddhist monks even before they were publicly identified by the local officials. He also discovers a 'missing' report filed by a certain scientist who had warned the government about the impending threat of a devastating tsunami which would affect the coast line of Thailand yet the government simply ignored his claims. These are certainly valid news reports which never made headlines. Maybe they did, but I didn't read them. The main networks mainly focused on the number of missing persons, the outpouring of donations from all over the world, the massive destruction of the villages, its displaced inhabitants as well as the frantic evacuation of the Westerners who survived and needed to get out of the area ASAP.

Then you have the constantly harassed highest ranking British Consulate official (the Commonwealth states have Consulates not Embassies. He does have the rank of an Ambassador but they are normally addressed as Consuls) who is tasked to take care of the logistics to assist the uprooted British nationals. Most of them were tourists vacationing in Thailand during the Christmas holidays. As usual in any country, the main complaint would be that they (the Embassy officials) are not quick enough to help its citizens or they are not around when you need them the most. As a daughter of a former diplomat, I know just how difficult it is to get things moving. You need to follow a certain protocol and by the book procedures to get the papers shuffling, so to speak. But, of course the common folks are most likely to blame their respective government for the inefficiency or worse the inaction of their officials - they don't know what it really takes to coordinate such an incident of massive proportions.

"Where have you been?" is the first thing a British tourist uttered to the stunned Consul when he arrived in Phuket to monitor the situation. Little did he know that the said Consul had to travel by land for 12 hours from Bangkok to reach Phuket because the runway at the Phuket airport got damaged in the tsunami. It is a thankless job, really.

Special mention also goes to the couple who are desperately trying to find their missing daughter. Brilliantly portrayed by Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) and Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda) - their harrowing tale is so poignantly heart breaking.


My main issue lies with the fact that the film makers didn't focus more on the local aspect of the devastation. I know this is an European production but still ... the Thais were like 'extras' on the set, just fading in the background. They were also put in a bad light, being portrayed as greedy (the government officials) or as looters (the local villagers who were merely shifting through their wrecked homes). The Thai people are a such docile race. Their compassionate nature helped a lot in alleviating the inconvenience for the Western tourists who fled in droves. They must be praised for their tireless effort and their fatalistic attitude to move on with their lives amidst such a horrific tragedy.

Having said that, although this mini series certainly doesn't merit a high rating quality wise, (it has the feel of a Hallmark TV movie of the week), I give kudos to the film makers for their bold attempt to humanize a tragedy.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE"

Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin

"A family on the verge of a breakdown"

Cinema 5, Greenbelt 3




This is a quirky situational comedy film with underlining dark themes, personified by a bunch of strange yet endearing characters which unfolds on a road trip.

Richard is a motivational speaker of a nine step program which doesn't quite cut it. Sheryl his wife I assume is a waitress since she has a tag with her name on her outfit. Dwayne, her teen aged son from a previous marriage reads Nietzsche. He has taken a vow of silence until he fulfills his dream of becoming a test pilot. Frank is Sheryl 's gay brother, a top Proust scholar recovering from a suicide attempt. Then you have Grandpa (Richard's dad) who was kicked out of the old folks home for his heroin addiction and little Olive, the 7 year old daughter whose main goal in life is to be a beauty queen. Put all of these strange characters who form one dysfunctional family together in a VW van as they make their 800 miles journey to Redondo, California from New Mexico so little Olive can compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant and voila ... You get one heck of a dark comedy!

En route, their deepest fears and hidden little secrets are revealed in such a subtle yet thought provoking manner, you can't help but be drawn into their anxiety. They unravel both literally and figuratively, facing many obstacles and conflicts yet they strive and persevere till they reach their ultimate destination. In the process, they begin to discover themselves with regards to their main goal in life as well as their rightful place within the family.

A myriad of topics such as homosexuality, child beauty pageants, the need to win, the competitive nature, the passionate desire to be somebody as well as being a Proust scholar are all coherently intertwined in this film.
It doesn't necessarily parody the situations, it just gives us a glimpse into what makes the Hoover family tick. Some situations merit rip roaring laughter yet at the same time, there is a tinge of really sad sequences too. It is a nice blend of different emotions which sets your heart a flutter.
You can't help but think wow how clever of them (the scriptwriters) to come up with such a movie that mixes together all these rarely mentioned situations/subjects.

The characters are very well developed, each of them shining through with their own personality quirks which make them so endearing to watch.
The overall tone of the film gives you this semblance of being some 70s TV show as best exemplified by the crickety VW wagon/van yet the setting is very current and up to date.

The ensemble cast all fit together perfectly like a glove. Greg Kinnear as the 'always think positive' dad was a bit annoying. He came across as being too harsh yet you also understand where he (his need to always excel) is coming from. Toni Collette's facial expressions can convey a whole set of emotions. She was very convincing as Sheryl. A very subdued Steve Carell is excellent as the depressed gay Proust scholar. He delivered his lines with a clear witty retort sans hysterics, it was flawless! Paul Dano spends most of the film in silence. He communicates by writing on a piece of paper but you just look at his face and you clearly know what's on his mind.
I was quite fond of the deep bond which developed between Grandpa and little Olive. The chemistry they shared was heart warming and it does help that Alan Arkin and Abigail Breslin (Signs, Raising Helen) portrayed them with such ease, you would think they were really related. They are the heart and soul of the movie.

Now I know why this indie flick was such a hit at Sundance Film Festival held earlier this year - it is such a delightful treat.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"THE BREAK UP"

Jennifer Aniston, Vince Vaughn, Jov Favreau, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jason Bateman, Judy Davis, Joey Lauren Adams

" ... pick a side"



As the title suggests, this film is a glimpse into the life of a couple, Gary and Brooke who decide to end their relationship. It begins with a short introduction of their happy times together as shown by a collage of pictures in the opening credits. Followed by the usual snippet of how they met, what they do for a living, who their friends are and where they live.

Then one night while preparing dinner for family members, Brooke airs all her frustrations vis a vis their relationship after arguing over the quantity of lemons for the table centerpiece. Gary naturally vehemently defends himself. They manage to keep it under wraps during the dinner party by being civil to each other and try to be accommodating towards their guests. Once they are alone again, all hell breaks loose. Insinuations fly. Hurtful words are uttered. Accusations bounce off the walls. Endless nit picking. Finger pointing arguments. A really intense moment. Woman has had enough, she breaks up the relationship then storms off to her room. Guy is tired of arguing. He is stunned a few awkward minutes of silence ensues while he process the situation then picks up his jacket and goes off to a bar to cool off. Ugh. At that precise moment, I yelled at the screen "hey what are you doing? where are you going? Why don't you just do the damn dishes just like she asked? Everything would be alright in the morning" But of course, men never do the dishes unless they are told so fair enough that was a realistic reaction from the guy.

Then comes the 'strange' part, neither of them moves out of their condo and get all territorial on their personal spaces. He camps out at the living room area with his things scattered all over the place. She reigns supreme in their master bedroom.

The good thing is that they both have a good moral support system going on through their friends and family. How appropriate that Vincent D'Onofrio is cast as his brother in this film? I have always maintained that those two look alike from their height to their body build. Well anyways, I actually cheered and appreciated the amicable way this movie ended. No over the edge hysterics, no loud shouting matches, no mushy romantic interludes. Just being civil, respectful of each other's decisions and moving on with their separate lives.

Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn work well together. She is good in these kind of roles where she doesn't try too hard to be funny or goofy like her Rachel Green character in "Friends". Maybe she was channeling her inner conflicted self as she was dealing with her very public divorce from Brad Pitt during the filming of this movie. She was convincing as the aggrieved party in the break up. I mean, really now ... if you were in a relationship with a guy who would come up with every single excuse not to do the dishes or help in the household chores, I'm sure you would be climbing the walls and losing your mind. Vince Vaughn seems to strive in playing either some con artist (The Wedding Crashers; Starsky & Hutch) or some loud mouth loser who thinks he is cool (Dodgeball; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy). He has good comedic timing though and can rattle off some witty funny lines like a machine gun. I hope he won't be typecast into playing such mediocre characters. I believe he has the potential to be a really bad villain (Psycho) in some Bruce Willis or Will Smith action flick.

I end by saying this film confirms several points about maintaining a healthy and meaningful relationship such as "you cannot really change someone". "Dropping hints won't work. Men never get them". "Men are not mind readers. But if you tell them to do something they accuse you of being a nag". But, of course it takes two to tango. Only thing I can say with absolute conviction is there must be a certain time frame or limit to the amount of emotional abuse one can take. If you feel you are not appreciated for who you are, then by all means, break it off and move on. Why suffer? It isn't easy but I know I have and I certainly have no regrets.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"YOU, ME AND DUPREE"
Owen Wilson, Matt Dillon, Kate Hudson, Michael Douglas

"Two's company. Dupree's a crowd"


I guess it is not a good sign when half way through this movie I fell asleep on the couch in my living room then woke up a few minutes before it ended and realized I didn't really miss out much on the plot.

Molly and Carl are a newly married couple whose marital bliss is interrupted when the best man at their wedding, Dupree starts living with them 'temporarily' while he tries to get his life back in order. He is unemployed and homeless so naturally the couple well specifically the husband is kind enough to accommodate his friend. Soon enough Dupree turns into this pesky house guest who thrashes up the place while at the same time he manages to ingratiate himself by being his charming self. Somehow I expected Dupree to be a lot more annoying than he was because let's face it, he is at best tolerable and not as obnoxious as Jim Carrey was towards Matthew Broderick in "The Cable Guy". And to think they (Jim Carrey & Matthew Broderick) didn't even live together in one house. Maybe it is because Owen Wilson has a face you can't help but smile at? Or he has this charming personality that doesn't border on being irritating as a big pimple on your face? Anyway, as expected, trouble erupts between the couple, Dupree suddenly has this change of attitude which alters his life so everyone is happy blah blah blah.

Matt Dillon was his usual stoic expressionless self as the husband with the insurmountable problems ranging from career issues (working for his father in law's firm) to dealing with Dupree (his best buddy who is mostly supportive) and just being a good husband to Molly. Kate Hudson is always refreshing to watch, her sunny little disposition seem to project through the screen even when she is supposed to be angry she still looks pleasant. Michael Douglas in a small role as the feisty father in law/owner of the company who doesn't quite gel with the newest addition to his family is believable and his character was quite straight forward and direct to the point without mincing any words.
Of course, the immature goof ball Dupree was best suited for Owen Wilson to play. He can be funny one moment and then in the next scene, you totally feel sorry for him. Somehow he managed to soften the blow a bit so you don't really end up totally hating Dupree. You just tolerate him in the same way that I tolerated this film for want of something to rent from the video store because I had already seen pretty much everything else on their display counter.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

"BORAT: CULTURAL LEARNINGS OF AMERICA FOR MAKE BENEFIT GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN"
Sacha Baron Cohen

Cinema 5, Rockwell

Borat



He is a morally repulsive Anti Semitic misogynist.
He is tactless, crude, insulting and exposes the true nature of people who didn't know any better.
He is Borat Sagdiyev, a Kazakh TV reporter on a visit to the US to learn more about its culture. With the help of a producer, he goes on a road trip, stopping by several cities in the US to show us snippets in the lives of ordinary Americans.
Then the fun begins.
How people react to him is the hilarious part.
He openly behaves as obnoxious as possible. Crossing the boundary of decent behavior to being outright tacky and insulting. I don't think he provokes them into being foolish and dumb, they were just being themselves.
I believe he is the one who acted inappropriately, openly abusing the hospitality of the people he visited. He was the one who broke those precious dishes in the antique store, he was the one who kept contradicting those feminists, he was the one who behaved like a total jerk in that mansion when they were just being very gracious hosts, he was also quite insulting towards those old Jewish couple who welcomed him at their Bed and Breakfast.
They didn't know any better, I'm sure they were just being themselves, being accommodating towards a foreign guest in their country.
Sure there were funny moments, but frankly I expected it to be a lot more hilarious than it was. In fact, I found Alex from "Everything is Illuminated" a lot more funny than Borat and he didn't even have to resort to disguise, vulgarity and/or nudity to prove a point.

Enuff said!

Sunday, December 3, 2006

"THE NEW WORLD"

Colin Farrell, Christopher Plummer, Q'Orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale

"Once discovered, it was changed forever"

Pocahontas


Someone gifted me this film for my birthday last October. I am certainly not a fan of Colin Farrell but the giver knows I like films with contemporary history themes. I finally managed to sit down and endure it, last night. It is directed by Terrence Malick who also pegged "The Thin Red Line" which I loved and ranks among my favorite 'war' movies.

As for "The New World", I felt decidedly mixed. It was a good idea to sort of present much of the story through the eyes of Pocahontas. Although throughout the entire movie, she is not addressed by her Native American name. It is only later in the film when she is baptized as "Rebecca" that she is spoken to by her Christian name. But it would have been very easy to just tell the whole story from Captain Smith's perspective.

Overall, the Native American Indians were quite well-represented, very animated, childlike and unselfconscious, all of which seemed convincing and compelling. The colonizers called them "The Naturals" which implied some level of respect for being the first inhabitants of the newly discovered land as opposed to being "Natives" which would portray them as some savage/brutal tribal band of people.

England is shown from an American Indian's perspective (Pocahontas/Rebecca's), the cultivated gardens and scenes in the royal court made to seem very strange and fanciful (one of the best parts of the film, I thought). She is very curious about everything that she seemed like a child discovering something new for the very first time.

The cinematography was powerful at times, though the style really began to wear off for me after two hours because it was very expansive with minimal dialogue and merely a musical score to guide your eyes through vast scenes of topography.

Unfortunately, the story is really carried by the voice overs. A narrative style I normally appreciate in films. A bad idea in this case because it consisted of mostly mumbled lines from Colin Farrell fraught with loud music. For the life of me, I cannot grasp the way he enunciates words in every single movie he stars in. Unfortunately, VCDs don't come with a subtitles feature so most of the time I was grappling with the remote control to rewind the scene to understand what he mumbled. It was very frustrating to say the least. His portrayal of John Smith also started to wear thin on me. He seemed to only have one expression on his face for most of the film — a kind of wounded puppy dog look. The courtship between Smith and Pocahontas was also quite tastefully done, not much words spoken but still quite visually expressive through their gestures. But as the relationship evolved, it seems that suddenly, miraculously, Pocahontas can speak and understand English quite well.

Finally, the construction of the film started to make me impatient. Although beautiful, there are long stretches in which there aren't really scenes, but rather sequences in which each shot jumps forward in time. This continues for long periods, and one doesn't really get any sense of dramatic tension or build-up. There's no modulation, just a kind of steady forward movement.

But if you watched "The Thin Red Line" then you would know that this is the normal style of directing for Terrence Malick. You really need a lot of patience to endure this long film (135 minutes) and maybe grab a DVD copy so you can read the subtitles of the dialogue. It would certainly help a lot.

But I give props to the film for being as historically accurate as possible and not some romanticized version of a story. A tale not so much of an ill fated romance but a narrative about discovering a new world, driving away its original inhabitants into extinction, building a settlement/community with fresh hopes and dreams for its newly transported residents - all seen through the eyes of a naive young girl named Pocahontas.
 

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