Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Dustin Hoffman,
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Queen Latifah

"Harold Click isn't ready to go. Period"

Cinema 3, Greenbelt 3

Harold Click

Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) is an IRS agent. A guy who has lived the past 12 years of his life in such a routinely fashion. From the number of strokes when he brushes his teeth to the number of steps he walks to get to the bus stop, every morning. One day he hears a voice in his head and realizes he is the character in a novel being narrated and written by Emma Thompson. His monotonous existence turns upside down when the voice in his head announces that Harold Crick must face his 'imminent death'. Poor Harold. He must now figure out if his life is a comedy or a tragedy to determine how the novel ends. He seeks the help of a literary theorist (Dustin Hoffman) and together they come up with ways to 'extend' Harold's life. It helps that Kay Eiffel, the author is currently going through a mental block and can't seem to decide how to finish off her character. In the meantime, certain events in Harold's life give him more reason to want to live. He falls in love, learns to play the guitar and takes a leave of absence from his boring job.

"Stranger than Fiction" is an endearingly nice (for lack of a better word) movie. The somehow strange premise works because the director takes us on a ride along with Harold Crick. We cheer as we notice his growing fondness for Ana Pascal (Maggie Gyllenhaal). We cringe when Kay (the author) researches methods for Harold's imminent death. We laugh during the brainstorming session with Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman). We get attached to Harold, he is a kind, no frills, no hang ups kind of person. Yes he does lack a sense of humor but he is an IRS agent for Pete's sake, these guys are not known for being funny.

It also works because Harold is portrayed by Will Ferrell. You would probably have to drag me by my hair to watch a Will Ferrell movie and I would probably barf during the entire movie but in "Stranger than Fiction" he did a good job. Much like his character in "Melinda and Melinda" (another delightful film I liked), here he isn't obnoxious nor irritatingly annoying, he had a serious demeanor with his deadpan "I don't get the joke" aura. I have to say to the guy seated in the seat below me in the cinema who kept laughing at the most inappropriate time, just because Will Ferrell is in the movie doesn't mean that everything he says is supposed to draw laughter. Just shut up, already! Geez.

Anyways back to the movie, I liked the rapport between Will Ferrell and Dustin Hoffman, their sessions together revealed a lot about Harold's life. Dustin Hoffman gives a steady, authoritative characterization to the multifaceted professor. Maggie Gyllenhaal as his love interest was great. Her bohemian yet gutsy stance along with this 'thinking out of the box' attitude humanized Ana Pascal. Emma Thompson's role as the reclusive author Kay Eiffel who had a stumbling writer's block was authentic. Her character driven by streaks of eccentricity while she researched for her novel and acting without any make up on takes guts to play and Emma Thompson did an impeccable job.

The script is well written, the dialogue was crisp and clever. The special effects didn't overwhelm, just enough to give us a glimpse on how Harold Crick's mind works. It is also well directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball), presenting us with scenes that are relevant to the plot, no lingering waste of footage, adding just enough music to give it a lyrical but not nauseating feel and giving us a good blend of interesting characters who all were a delight to watch.

I was totally blown away by the premise of this movie. I loved it. It is about realizing that we are the masters of our fate. Someone up there might have already written our life history but it is up to us whether we want it to be a comedy or a tragedy. We tend to get stuck in our routine and sometimes we don't even realize it. That life is too short to keep postponing our dreams like wanting to learn a new language or taking up a hobby. Yet at the same time, learning to accept that we cannot control our destiny so we might as well just enjoy each day as it dawns and hold on tight for the ride.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Glass, Max Minghella

"Words may define us, but it's love that connects us"

Star Movies


Bee Season in this film refers to Spelling Bee competitions and not the sort of bees which produce honey. A movie with an existential tone, it deals with a family that strive to connect with each other on a deeper level yet in the process they end up being torn apart from the core.

Eliza Naumann is a gifted young girl who excels at spelling bee contests. She has the ability to see the words dancing in her mind when she closes her eyes to concentrate on its spelling. Her father Saul is a religious studies (Kabbalah) professor, a controlling type who is desperate to connect to a Higher Being as a means to make the world a better place. Aaron is the teenage son struggling with his own religious beliefs. Miriam, (the mother) is on the brink of a nervous breakdown, haunted by a traumatic event from her past. As Eliza progresses through the numerous rounds in the Spelling Bee competition, her father obsessively tutors her to develop her special skills. In the process, he discovers his daughter's mystical ability to communicate at a deeper level with God. A task he himself is unable to cultivate despite his extensive study of the process. His exploration through his daughter makes him lose sight of the more important aspects in his life like his failing marriage and the alienation from his son.

I haven't read the book by Myla Goldberg. I also have no stock knowledge about Kabbalah. Yet somehow it doesn't take much to understand that spirituality plays a big factor in trying to understand the Naumann family. But having said that I wish I read the book so I can have more insights about each character. The film doesn't quite explain certain events. Some subplots are not well defined. We only get bits and pieces of information through sporadic flashbacks. Most of them involve the root cause of Miriam's nervous breakdown and as well as the divine aspect of Kabbalah. But I did like the magical way the letters were shown dancing like a kaleidoscope flashing through the mind of Eliza. She had to spell out words I had never read of, let alone knew existed in the English language. The fluctuating musical score though tends to peak up to deafening decibels whenever some dramatic scene was about to unfold, a minor irritant.

It is uncunning how Flora Glass who portrays Eliza looks like a younger version of Juliette Binoche (Miriam). Her subdued acting was quite ethereal and she was such a delight to watch. Max Minghella (the son of director Anthony Minghella of "The English Patient" fame) did okay as the confused and 'abandoned' son. Juliette Binoche seems to glide through most of her scenes. It is a bit hard to believe that Richard Gere is a Jewish professor because I kept thinking 'Isn't he a Buddhist?". Yet somehow we tend to overlook that fact as his spiritual demeanor made him a very humane character.

Bee Season was a deeply moving film which tells us that winning isn't everything. We don't necessarily need to have everything spelled out for us, sometimes it is best to look beyond words to understand what life is all about.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Kate Winslet, Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Noah Emmerich Jennifer Connelly, Phyllis Somerville

Cinema 5, Power Plant Mall

Little Children

Sometimes it helps to simply watch a movie without even knowing what to expect from it. The only publicity this movie got in this part of the world was when it was nominated for a few Golden Globe awards. We were not subjected to its trailers/previews before the showing of every movie in the theaters unlike "The Ice Age 2" which they kept showing like a year in advance. Quite irritating. But I was curious to find out why this film merited an Oscar nomination for best film and was quite surprised to learn it was being shown at the local theaters.

The story of life in a middle class suburban town where people intersect with each other driven by a strong sense of living a 'righteous' lifestyle. Everyone seems fine on the outside but have some secrets which affect their behavior as parents, as married couples or as individuals in general. Some rather disturbing dark undertones fester among some of the inhabitants. It just sort of creeps up behind you and you simply get drawn into their tales.

Main thrust of the film focuses on Sarah and Brad. She is a lonely bored housewife with a 3 year old daughter (Lucy) trapped in an bland marriage while he is a 'houseband' who gets sidetracked from pursuing a law career, is married to a statuesque wife and together they have a young son (Aaron) whom he dotes upon. Their paths cross one day when they are both in the same playground for their kids' daily play time. They are both drawn to each other simply by affinity since they are mostly the alienated ones, isolated from the supposedly normal roles expected from them by society in general. Sarah is a housewife that doesn't quite fit the mold of a typical suburban mom. She forgets to pack her daughter' snack while they are at the park. Brad is the only male among the housewives who take their kids to the playground or the community swimming pool. He inhibits a childish stance - failing the bar exams twice but instead of reviewing his law books at the library he sits by watching boys rollerskating because it is something he wished he could have experienced as a teenager.

The film opens with the voice of a narrator who seems to be reading lines from a book. After all this film was based on a novel by Tom Perrotta. The narration is sporadic. There are long periods where you completely forget that there was a narration to begin with. The setting is mostly in the small community with scenes of their houses, the streets, the playground or the swimming pool making up most of the shots. Sequences unfold with fluidity, each fraught with some implied meaning which gives us valuable insights on the characters personalities. Aaron taking off his court jester hat when his mother comes home. Lucy's refusal to sit in the baby seat in the car. The word EVIL painted on the doorstep of the sex offender's house yet he makes his appearance half way through the film. I found the swimming pool scenes a bit dragging but mercifully it was redeemed when events unfolded rather quickly towards the suspenseful ending.

But mostly the film is about the characters that inhabit East Wyndam. They all convey different levels of emotions present in each one of us and presented through various behavioral acts such as immaturity, insecurity, passionate desires, loneliness, alienation, rage, power, helplessness, irresponsible, reckless. Their beautiful suburban surroundings betray the fact that these are flawed and complicated characters.

The cast is well balanced to show us through their wide range of facial expressions, their gestures just how fully developed their characters are. Of course Kate Winslet delivers quite well even sounding American. Patrick Wilson seemed a bit mechanical in my opinion but is quite pleasing to the eyes. Special mention goes to the actor Jackie Earle Haley as the pedophile who is eerie and creepy yet at the same time you feel bad for the way the community treats him with such contempt because his disturbing behavior stems from a disease which he seems unable to control. He deserves being nominated as Best Supporting Actor in the forthcoming Oscar awards.

I liked "Little Children" for giving us a different perspective (dare I say a rather dark view) about life in a suburban town but personally, I couldn't identify with the characters in this film. I am not a mother of a young child living in suburbia. I don't have a sex predator (none that I know of) living around the corner. But I do know how it feels to live in a society where you are constantly judged for being different, for not conforming to what society expects from you once you reach a certain age. I won't get into the nitty gritty details.

"Little Children" is a watchable little film but expect to witness some shocking and disturbing scenes (I need to emphasize though that this is not a film about pedophilia) which doesn't really wash down well no matter how hard you try to drown it with that diet Coke you ordered with your popcorn.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Leonardo diCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, Djimon Hounsou

"Freedom, it will cost you everything"

SM Megamall, Cinema 5

Bling Bang

"T.I.A" says one of the characters in this film to Danny Archer (Leonardo diCaprio). Meaning "This is Africa", a continent unfortunately strife with poverty and conflicts. Perfect backdrop for any Hollywood movie. You throw in a leading actor guaranteed to draw in the crowds, spray the movie with explosive action scenes (the louder the better), pepper the dialogue with cliche lines, dangle in a female lead for some romantic angle and introduce "beaucoup bad guys" (as uttered by Bruce Willis in "Tears of the Sun") tata you have the usual plotline of most movies set in Africa. Edward Zwick though decided to up the ante by 'lecturing' us about the ramifications of conflict diamonds. I admit it was quite an eye opener for me whose main source of information about Africa is through either news programs like "Inside Africa" on CNN or movies like "The Constant Gardener", "Hotel Rwanda" and "Sometimes in April".

So even if this film isn't as well crafted as "The Constant Gardener", it does deliver its main message across. Even though it takes more than 2 hours to do so. Fast paced action scenes (really graphic and violent shots of massacres) in the early part of the movie keeps you on the edge of your seat. It mellows down a bit so you can perhaps go take a pee break and return just in time to witness some saving coup de grace in the rather flat ending. Edward Zwick has somehow developed this pattern in most of his movies where he features a sort of Lone Ranger type of hero battling against an entire culture/race or a war. Case in point - Matthew Broderick in "Glory" and Tom Cruise in "The Last Samurai" and now Leo diCaprio in "Blood Diamond"

In the acting department, the actors give credible performances. I've followed Leonardo diCaprio's prolific career since I saw him in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape". A recent article revealed that he wanted to quit acting after he did "Titanic" because he didn't want to be known as some piece of meat adored by the masses. He is more mature now that he has lost his baby fat features. So never mind that his South African accent faltered every now and then, he has what it takes to pull off a wide range of different characters in every films he stars in. I hope he acts in more meaningful roles from now on.

I admired Solomon Vandy's (Djimon Hounsou's character) ever hopeful stance that his beloved Sierra Leone would find peace. His unwavering belief that his son would go to school and become a successful doctor. Despite all the violence and the horrific circumstances of his country being torn apart by civil war and greedy warlords, he still didn't lose faith and his conviction never wavered. Djimon Hounsou has always been a forceful actor, he has a strong screen presence and in this movie, he delivers right on target. Jennifer Connelly is the token female lead added in to conjure up some romantic interlude. She seemed irrelevant. I figure it would have worked just fine if the reporter/journalist was portrayed by a guy. Rather unfortunate because she registers well in most of her roles, maybe she just took this film as a chance to go to Africa and enjoy the scenery and go on a safari or something.

Lastly, I don't think this film would stop people from buying diamonds. But through this movie we were made aware of the harsh conditions of the people involved in mining diamonds. So next time you slip that diamond ring on your finger or wear your sparkling earrings, you should probably utter a silent prayer for the hapless soul who toiled under the blazing sun somewhere in the diamond minefields of Africa. And remember your accessory may be a "Bling Bling" but it strives from a "Bling Bang" industry.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Owen Kline, Eisenberg, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin

"Joint custody blows"

If you didn't know any better, you would assume that "The Squid and the Whale" is the title of an animation movie. Or some fairy tale with an uplifting moral lesson. On the contrary even though this film does have kids in it, it isn't exactly an enchanting story but a complex tale of the aftermath of a divorce and how it affects the children. Written and directed by Noam Baumbach, he based this story on his brother and his own childhood experiences. This realistically incisive human drama bagged him the Best Director and Best Screenplay award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.

Bernard, a disillusioned professor and former novelist still hopeful of getting re-published and Joan his neglected wife now shining in her own literary light decide to divorce so they inform their children about the new living arrangements. Disruptive as it may be, the kids have no choice but to accept the terms. Both children rebel against the situation in their own distinct ways. Walt, the older son is an impressionable teenager on the throes of discovering young love and he gets into trouble in school by plagiarising a Pink Floyd song. He is more inclined to take the side of his intellectually oriented father whom he worships. Frank who is about 12 years old resorts to drinking, uses foul language at the drop of a hat and develops this self gratifying sexual habit with disturbing consequences for such a young boy.

Their story unfolds with some funny scenes (mostly in the dialogue) which combine with some dramatic sequences and is set in Brooklyn in the mid 80s. It seems to have this 'autumny' tone. Drab with dreary downcast yet well developed characters, it is also peppered with songs from the 70s and 80s era. The subject (the aftermath of a divorce) although quite a sensitive matter is presented in such a honest and simplistic manner, you can't help but be drawn into the situation.
Good credible acting performances by the entire cast adds up to a well crafted storyline. Jeff Daniels complete with a salt and pepper scruffy beard fits the bill as the intellectual snob who patronizes people with his superiority complex. His character refers to "people who doesn't care about books, interesting films and things" as Philistines. Laura Linney, though could have used more exposure as Joan. Although she is in most of the scenes, she seems to somehow fade in the background. It is the children portrayed by the young actors who carry the whole movie. They made their somewhat 'flawed' characters very engagingly interesting to watch. Especially the younger son who has such a meaty role. He is portrayed by Owen Kline who just happens to be the son of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. Come to think of it, he does have the features of his mother and the artistic talent of his father.

As to what the title refers to well there can be different interpretations to the symbolism of the Squid and the Whale for Walt. For me, I believe it was sort of an epiphany, a defining moment for the older son - a point when he realized that he can stand up against his father's rather prejudiced opinions about everything and also coming to terms with the fact that his mother isn't as morally bad as he deemed her to be. Or it could simply be a repressed childhood memory of a pleasant time he shared with his mother. I recommend you to watch this film and come up with your opinion on the significance of the squid and the whale vis a vis the Berkman family.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Jacqueline Bisset, Francois Truffaut, Jean Pierre Leaud, Jean Pierre Aumont, Valentina Cortese, Nathalie Baye

Je vous presente Pamela

Instead of fretting endlessly over the slow Internet connection in this part of the globe (after the Taiwan earthquake last month damaged the telecommunication cables located under the vast ocean), I decided to just park myself in front of the TV, last night. Since I was in the mood to read some subtitles, I picked this Francois Tuffaut cinematic classic among my growing collection of foreign language movies.

A movie about 'the making' of a movie. Ferrand (played by Truffaut) is the director of "Je vous presente Pamela" ("May I introduce Pamela") a film movie about a newly married woman who eventually runs off with her father in law.

His cast in the "Pamela" film is an ensemble of actors with their own real life theatrics which affect their performance on the film. A young British actress (played by a young Jacqueline Bisset) recovering from depression, an older actress with a drinking problem so she forgets her lines. A charming Lothario type plays Pamela's father in law and Alphonse, an insecurely jealous actor who guards his girlfriend (a script reader) like a hawk on the set plays the husband of Pamela. We also watch the true 'stars' involved behind the scenes like the props man, the production assistant, the make up artist and the camera guys who ensure the balance and smooth flow of every aspect in the film making process.

But more so it is the director who reigns as the 'king'. He is the guy always in demand and he gets asked the most questions - from the background music vital to one scene to the wig one of the leading stars must wear. He is constantly harassed by the producer to finish shooting the movie on schedule. As well as deal with union and insurance issues. He patiently needs to cater to the whims of his stars. I was clearly impressed by his attitude of always maintaining a very calm demeanor. Not flaring up when things went wrong. In the course of shooting the film, several conflicts arise and how he handles every obstacle is an interesting look into the rigors involved in film making. Ferrand described the experience with this quote "Making a film is like a stagecoach ride in the old west. When you start, you are hoping for a pleasant trip. By the halfway point, you just hope to survive."

Through this movie I learned a term they call "la nuit Americaine' (literal translation is "the American night") which is a technique they use during the making of a movie. It means they film a night scene during the day time by improvising on the set. There is also a rather meaningful scene when Ferrand is listening to the final version of his background music over the phone, he opens a package of his reading materials - some books on notable directors like Bergman, Godard, Fellini, Hitchcock, Orson Welles to mention a few. It shows that directors do a lot of research and they draw their inspiration from other more acclaimed directors in the film industry. Ferrand also expresses some concern over the fact that movie "The Godfather" was presently showing all over Nice and it was raking at the box office to the detriment of the other films being shown at the same time.

This film is an interesting showcase into an era when movies were still appreciated as a art form. The setting was in the early 70s, a time when they didn't rely on computers and there were still stuntmen to do the daring action scenes. It is a must see for film enthusiasts who truly appreciate the art of cinema. Knowing fully well that movies isn't just about the big stars in front of the camera. That more essentially it is about the little people who work behind the scenes that really matter in the grand scheme of things, cinema wise.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Zach Braff, Jacinda Barrett, Rachel Bilson, Blythe Danner, Tom Wilkinson, Casey Affleck, Michael Weston

"We all make choices. What's yours?"

This crisp well structured film is Hollywood's adaptation of an Italian movie called L'Ultimo Bacio. It deals with a group of friends who are at the crossroads of their lives. You know the point where you reach the 30 threshold and you get saddled with new pressing responsibilities such as parenthood, marriage and commitment issues. The period in your life where you stick to your decisions and pray that you made the right choice because you only get one chance to make everything right. Or live to regret it for the rest of your adult life.

The main thrust of the story focuses on Jenna and Michael. They are an unmarried couple expecting a baby. Michael is confused and feels trapped. It seems like he is on auto pilot mode and his life is already being planned for him. He deals with his 'freaking out mode' by having an indiscretion with a younger girl. This crisis/conflict leads him to examine what he really wants out of life. Meanwhile Jenna has her own issues to confront when her own parents go through a rough spot in their marriage.

The story although interesting enough is also a bit predictable. My main concern is the casting of Zach Braff. The guy seems hell bent on portraying characters who project some loner and dare I say loser vibe. If you watched "Garden State" you will know what I mean. The troubled and depressed type who always has some conflicts raging in his life. It doesn't help that he has a pretty expressionless demeanor. Just one dimensional character without much of a personality. I also didn't sense any chemistry between him and Jacinda Barrett who portrays Jenna. She is sweet and refreshingly radiant as Jenna so I don't grasp what she sees in Michael.
Drawing another parallel with his role in "Garden State", he is lucky he has some (for lack of a better word) 'cool' friends. In the sense that they have more engaging personalities and lead more interesting lives.
Their stories unfolds in little sub plots which add more spice to the otherwise monotonous atmosphere.

I haven't seen the Italian version so I can't say if this American rehash stuck true to the premise. But it is another one of those films with an open ending subject to several interpretations. And boy do I have loads of scenarios in my mind so to what happens when she opens the door to let him back into the house. Because although the main train of thought for the film suggest 'you won't fail if you never give up', I took offense with the way it ended. I am not talking about the abruptness but I mean the implication that everything was going to be alright because Michael stayed out in the rain without any food for a few days. I hope he got really sick and she left him to rot on some hospital bed and moved on with her life without having to see his indifferent face, ever again.
Ok so you catch my drift, excuse me if I got carried away ... I know it is just a movie, after all.

Thursday, January 4, 2007


Bill Murray, Julie Delpy, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, Frances Conroy, Tilda Swinton

"Sometimes life brings some strange surprises"


Don Johnston

I have this crazy tendency to read about all about those indie flicks which make the rounds of the film festivals circuits on various websites. I start obsessing over them till I realized most of them won't make it to this part of the world. Upon checking the list of films on HBO for December, I immediately recognized "Broken Flowers" as one of the entries shown at the Cannes Film Festival circa 2005.
As fate would have it, the first time (December 30) it was shown, I was at a mall splurging like crazy at their year end sales. So I made sure I was in front of the telly at 12:30 AM (Jan. 4, Thursday) to watch this Jim Jarmusch reflective tale unfold complete with microwave popcorn for my midnight snack. Not that this film is a popcorn flick, no sirree, it definitely isn't!

It is a slow paced road trip movie. A journey into a man's past to make sense of his current existence. Don Johnston (with a T unlike the Miami Vice star) reluctantly embarks on a journey to find out which of his 4 former girlfriends is the mother of his alleged 19 year old son. A fact he recently finds out when he receives an unsigned letter written on a pink stationery enclosed in a pink envelope. There is no exact postal origin nor a return address.

Don Johnston is a man of few words and fewer expressions. He lives a reclusive existence after his current flame dumped him. He has the uncunning reputation of being a Lothario. A made (rich)bachelor who was into computers and mops around wearing expensive track suits. His only social connection is with his next door neighbor named Winston. A happily married African American of Ethiopian heritage with 3 jobs and 5 children. Winston is also an amateur sleuth enthusiast and he is the one who prods Don to embark on the journey. He researched everything through the Internet, traced the locations and exact addresses of the women. Then he documents an elaborate itinerary by booking air tickets, motel rooms and rental cars. He also encloses maps along with Ethiopian inspired music he burned on a CD for the road trip.

Each encounter with the women are characterized by their distinct attitude of welcoming Don into their house when he appears out of the blue, out of nowhere. Strangely, we are not shown the names of any towns/cities where the women live nor the distance between each trip. Don also doesn't directly ask them if they are the sender of the mysterious letter. He was told by Winston to subtly observe any traces of 'pink' items. It is at this point in the movie where as a viewer you tend to focus your eyes on anything pink to provide some clues to the 'culprit'. Notably the director somehow managed to eclipse all the other hues in the scenes that it felt like you were watching some 3D flick where the color pink would flash right in front of your eyes. Maybe it was just my subconscious mind telling my brain to visualize more on the chosen color.

A minimalist approach, some long lingering shots of scenery, the deadpan expressionless facade of Bill Murray (a technique he seems to have mastered effortlessly), a good performance from Jeffrey Wright complete with an African accent - as well as the different women in Don Johnston's colorful past portrayed by actresses of varying range (Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy and Tilda Swinton) all contribute to one contemplative existential movie. Factor in a good soundtrack of soothing music with an African beat but at the end of the movie you find yourself standing in the middle of the road with Bill Murray who has a blank stare pasted on his face wondering "Does this make any sense, at all?" If you want the answer to that question, I suggest you watch this movie but be warned despite its simplistic tone of telling the story of a man's self discovery, there are enough issues left unresolved which leaves you pondering long after you have switched the TV off.

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