Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Eiga Sai Japanese Contemporary Films 2007
All films will be shown with English subtitles. Screening venues are at the Cinema 3, Shangri-La Plaza Mall (June 20-26), UP Film Institute (July 2-5), and CCP Dream Theater (July 4-8).

Admission is free.

For detailed screening schedules and inquiries, please check the Japan Foundation, Manila website or call the JFM telephone numbers 811-6155 to 58.

Click here for the synopsis of the films

The screening schedule can be found here

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"OCEAN'S THIRTEEN"
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Carl Reiner, Eddie Izzard, Vincent Cassel, Andy Garcia, Elliot Gould, Scott Caan, Casey Affleck, Don Cheadle, Al Pacino, Julian Sands, Eddie Jemison, David Paymer, Shaobo Qin, Bernie Mac, Ellen Barkin

"What are the odds of getting even?
13 to one"

Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex



Some reasons why I enjoyed Ocean's Thirteen:
George Clooney and the whole gang are back.
They have visibly aged but their camaraderie is still intact.
Sleek script, the plot is a lot easier to figure out.
No mind bending twists.
But the heist itself is still rather complex.
The 70s feel and look of the cinematography.
Grainy, sometimes out of focus camera angles.
The neat CGi effects like that hideous structure known as the Banks Hotel.
Vincent Cassel's very brief yet powerful presence on screen.
The few witty and funny dialogue which merit a chuckle or two.
The realistic capture of glittery and gaudy Las Vegas, the Sin City.
The steady acting of a subdued Al Pacino. Not much histrionics which works better.
The able performance of the supporting cast like David Paymer, Julian Sands Eddie Izzard and Andy Garcia to name a few.
The fashionable wardrobe which made them, well most of them look like models for GQ magazine.
The crafty direction of Steven Soderbergh.
Mostly it seems like they all have a lot of fun during the filming of these Ocean films and it radiates on screen.

Number 1 reason this film doesn't rank as my favorite "Ocean" heist:
Ellen Barkin's leathery presence. She was just added to put some ooomph in the film but they should have given her role to a male actor instead. Ugh!

By the way, my favorite among the trilogy is the very complex but cleverly written "Ocean's Twelve".

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"LES MAUVAIS JOUEURS" ("GAMBLERS")
Pascal Elbe, Simon Abkarian, Isaac Sharry, Lihn Dan Pham

12TH French Film Festival, Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex



Despite it being entitled "Gamblers" in English, this French film isn't about high rollers and casinos but more about people taking chances and gambling with their lives.

It is set in the Sentier district of Paris, the center of the garments industry. A sector also known for its large immigrant population. Vahe works for his father's textiles store which is on the brink of closing down. His girlfriend Lu Ann has left him and he is suddenly forced to take her younger brother Yuen under his wing and suffers the consequences of his act.

It is an honest glimpse into the life of a man on the brink of making choices and sticking to them. Volatile times reign in modern day France which now has an alarming immigrant population. But Vahe's story isn't about the difficulties an immigrant faces in his host country but about the everyday travails of a group of people who just happen to be immigrants. A life riddled with crime syndicates, petty crimes but at the same time these people now make up the backbone of France, today. Their lives are intertwined with the lives of other immigrants who all seek to make an honest living by doing what they know best. It is about the young Chinese laborers who works at sweat shop like factories. A restaurant run by the Chinese family of Lu Ann. It is about the Lebanese merchants who sells the textiles to these factories which in turn are run by Hungarian mob like characters. But it is also about compassion, about romance and about life in general as seen through the perspective of assimilated immigrants who live in harmony with each other.

Pascal Elbe who in my opinion looks like a rougher version of Eric Bana portrays Vahe. A somehow compassionate person who can't seem to make things work to his advantage. He is still in love with his Chinese now ex girlfriend, Lu Ann to the point of obsessively stalking her. He takes it upon himself to help her younger brother, Yuen who is a restless young man more focused on courting than actually earning a living. Vahe is mostly a rather common character in French movies with immigrant themes. A character guided by his heritage yet trying to adapt to his host country to the best of his rather limited ability. Usually they can easily assimilate within society yet they are still judged by their stereotypical behaviours.
In the same breath, Lu Ann is a young liberated Asian woman of Chinese ancestry who was born and raised all her life in France. She can hardly speak her native tongue and she aspires to be more than just a dishwasher/helper in a Chinese restaurant. But when she gets romantically involved with a fellow Chinese, her friend tells her that she will be better off with a French guy because "Chinese no good".

Although the story line is quite realistic, the editing could use some improvement. Certain scenes don't seem to coordinate with the main plot. They seemed too forced to make any relevance. The cinematography is true to its setting, a working class neighborhood which could really use some renovation. As is now common among French movies, there are no definitive conclusions to some side plots in the storyline. The director, Frédéric Balekdjian who is the son of Armenian immigrants loosely based the story upon his own life. He grew up in the Sentier district. Perhaps his idea is that the story of an immigrant or any person for that matter doesn't really have a conclusive ending as long as he is alive. The audience is left to form their own opinions about the fate of each of the characters once the end credits roll up in the dark theater. The question though is do we really care what happened to them?

Saturday, June 9, 2007

"THE MARCH OF THE PENGUINS"

12th French Film Festival, Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex



I expected to see the French version of this known documentary about the flight of the emperor penguins since after all it is the French Film Festival, right? But lo and behold it was the Tagalog version with Sharon Cuneta (a local actress) narrating the story in her sometimes high pitched voice complete with giggles and trying to be cute effects. Blah! It was entitled "Penguin, Penguin paano ka ginawa?" ("Penguin, Penguin how were you made?") which is a play with words on a popular Filipino song or is it a poem? (I'm not sure) called "Bata, bata paano ka ginawa?" ("Child, child, how were you made?").

Nevertheless despite being visibly disappointed, this 85 minute documentary was interesting to watch, quite informative and educational. Drawing parallels with the trappings of human existence - it has all the necessary ingredients of a good story telling movie.
Conflicts in the form of some mother penguins trying to steal the other babies. Violence can be manifested through bitter fights among them as well as lurking dangers from menacing enemies (seals, eagles) in the chain. Romantic interludes once they choose their partners among the throngs of penguins and their mating rituals is like watching an elegant ballet dance. Laughter/joy mostly found at the sight of their little chick penguins hatching out of their eggs. Sad moments occur when some of the mother penguins die on their way back to the place where their hungry chicks are waiting to be fed. Dramatic highlights in the life cycle of an emperor penguin include trying everything to keep warm during those unforgivable blizzards. Plus add in the cuteness factor - because ever so often you end up going "awww" every time you see an adorable furry little penguin chick shivering in the freezing weather.

But most of all I admire the fact that it is the male penguin who takes care of the egg for 4 months going without food while the female penguin goes off to hunt for food miles away from the breeding ground. How's that for (penguin) women's lib, huh?

As the French say "C'est genial!"

Friday, June 8, 2007

"PERFUME: THE STORY OF A MURDERER"
Ben Whishaw, Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Hurd-Wood


"He lived to find beauty. He killed to possess it."


12th French Film Festival, Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex


An olfactory visual feast about a young man, Jean Baptiste Grenouille who is on a quest to find the perfect scent. His quest turns into a dark obsession fraught with the murder of innocent young women. This movie based on a book entitled "Das Parfume" by German author Patrick Suskind. A clear crisp narration by an uncredited John Hurt ably guides you through the film. It starts off with a pretty bleak story of a very unusual young man. A young man misunderstood by society, incapable of forming human relationships but with a keen sense of smell which affects everything in his sight and in his life. It is set in 18th century France which was described by the narration as:
"In the period of which we speak, there reigned in the cities a stench barely conceivable to us modern men and women. Naturally, the stench was foulest in Paris, for Paris was the largest city in Europe."
So from the onset you brace yourself for a dismal depiction of a sad pathetic life. Yet as the movie progresses, you become a silent witness through the portrayal of the different scenes to Jean Baptiste's numerous experiences in his 'smelly' world. Cinematography was artistic to say the least with vivid scenes of a bright lavender field, the dark stinky marketplace of Paris to the lush greenery of the French countryside or the slow motion drop of compressed perfume oil. Haunting sounds effects of a beating heartbeat, the wails of a newly born baby as well as an operatic aria during some vital scenes gave the film some character. It is only towards the ending that the plot gets a bit convoluted and it seems a bit disjointed from the rest of the film. An odd and puzzling ending which is probably best explained in the book leaves you scratching your head and pondering "what was that all about?".

Dustin Hoffman was a revelation as the mentor who teaches Jean Baptiste Grenouille everything about the perfumery trade. A short but significant role nonetheless. Alan Rickman is always effective in any role he portrays. But the main praise goes to the young actor, Ben Whishaw who portrays Jean Baptiste. His innocent looking face sparkles each time he discovers a new scent. You can't help but totally commiserate with his fate. The whole movie naturally revolves around him. Whishaw's acting although a bit stiff in some scenes was overall credible and effective.

By the way, the film is entirely in English and not a single French word was uttered by anybody in the cast who ironically sported English accents not even trying to sound French at all. Strange! There is a hidden symbolic meaning to the rather bewildering ending but that shouldn't put you off the fact that Perfume is a very well made yet complex movie. But it is probably not really suited for every one's tastes.

According to Guiseppe Baldini (Dustin Hoffman) a scent has 3 chords. The head, the heart and the base. The head is the first impression you get from the smell. The heart is the main soul of the perfume. The base is the trail that lingers long after the scent has evaporated. I'd say this film also has 3 chords. You are first awed then you discover who Jean Baptiste really is and finally you realize it is one cinematic feast which will linger in your mind long after you've left the theater.

Monday, June 4, 2007

"ZODIAC"

Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anthony Edwards, John Carroll Lynch, Brian Cox, Elias Koteas, Chloe Sevigny

"There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer"

Cinema 6, SM Megamall


This film is based on actual case files about a serial killer named "Zodiac" with references from the books written by Robert Graysmith. The San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist, portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal who got obsessed by the case. David Fincher who also pegged "Se7en", "Panic Room" and "Fight Club" uses a now familiar visual technique prominent in most of his films. Dim, grainy images, a few jarring hand held effects to depict the era/setting of the film. "Zodiac" starts from the late 60s and spans 4 decades. To give the film a more documentary feel, the time frame was shown on screen to indicate the evolution of the case. But it distracted me because I kept trying to figure out "8 weeks later from which month?". Well I was never good in math, anyway!

The ensemble cast of mostly good actors essayed their well developed characters efficiently. Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr and even Elias Koteas all sported the 70s look complete with wavy hair, bushy sideburns, bell bottoms and tight suits. But how come Jake Gyllenhaal still looked the same throughout the movie? OK granted that he portrays the author of the books upon which the film is based so he had a more lengthy role but it would be fair to say he actually had just one expression on his ruggedly pleasant face throughout the movie.

Of course how else can you expose the evil machinations of a serial killer without resorting to violent scenes? The violence was rather graphic in some shots and merely implied in other scenes so it wasn't too disturbing to watch. .It makes you wish that DNA profiling was available back then so that the killer would have been caught right away. Yet the very fact that technology wasn't up to par back then makes the "Zodiac" case and the film for that matter so engrossing to follow. Fincher presented factual information and thankfully didn't sugarcoat it with any embellishments to give it some dramatic effect for Hollywood sake.

Yes, the film is long but it was cleverly edited in such a way that every scene was vital for the audience to get a better grip on the case. It had the right mix of gripping suspense, tinges of violence, good repartee among the actors and a coherently solid plot to sustain your attention.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END"

Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Geoffrey Rush, Bill Nighy, Keith Richards, Stellan Skarsgard, Chow Yun Fat

Cinema 8, SM Megamall

"At the end of the world, the adventure begins."



I watched this film a week ago and all I can recall from its merry twists and turns of a plot is Johnny Depp with his thick kohl eyeliner makeup as Jack Sparrow hallucinating in Davy Jones's locket.

I guess it says something about a movie when despite it being over 2 hours , the only scene which stuck to my mind is a hallucination. Truth be told, I've long forgotten what happened in the second installment (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) of the franchise. So while I was still familiar with the main characters like Elizabeth Swann, Will Turner, Captain Barbossa, Davy Jones, the two goofy pirates (Pintel and Ragetti) and of course, Jack Sparrow, I felt like I myself was abandoned on an island somewhere so I was totally disoriented.

Numerous subplots abound (much like the first 2 films) but the main technique of visually stimulated scenes still held fort. Swashbuckling fight scenes, a wide array of merry characters hopping from one ship to another traveling the high seas, the muted romantic angle between Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, the comedic dialogue, the good computer generated effects - all contribute to make Pirates 3 a highly entertaining senseless fun movie to watch. At the same time, certain humanely poignant scenes like Will Turner becoming the captain of the Flying Dutchman and Davy Jones returning to his 'human' form give the film some soulful interpretation and doesn't relegate it to some inconsequential frolicking romp at sea.

The much awaited appearance of Keith Richards though was a bit disappointing because it was very brief. It would have been more interesting if they added and developed that side plot more extensively. Chow Yun Fat's character in my opinion didn't contribute anything significant to the plot. He didn't make a dent in the whole shebang. It seemed like a wasted effort on his part. As was customary with the first two Pirates movies, just when you thought that some conflicts were nicely resolved, another conflict arose from the turbulent seas. The film though was cleverly edited in such a way that there is no dull moment and every scene is vital for the fluidity of the film. I like the fact how loose ends finally yet slowly after much dilly dallying got some closure.

So while it was implied that there might be more Pirates films in the offering, I believe this one was a fitting end to the trilogy. Surely Jack Sparrow needs to take a bow and make his graceful exit from the world of the cinema and go back to where he belongs - a character on a Disney theme park ride where he can regale us with his charming presence.

Parlay!

 

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