Wednesday, August 22, 2007

BOURNE ULTIMATUM

BOURNE ULTIMATUM
Matt Damon, Joan Allen, Julia Stiles, Albert Finney, David Straithairn, Paddy Considine, Scott Glenn

"Remember everything. Forgive nothing."

Cinema 3, Rockwell


Well what do you know?
Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still desperately trying to find out his true identity. It doesn't help that he is still being relentlessly pursued by the CIA, the very agency he was an integral part of from the very beginning. Pursued, hunted and chased by well trained assassins and dodging them through panoramic locales (Moscow, Turin, London, Spain, Tangiers and finally New York) Bourne once again proves he is a worthy opponent. He gets embroiled in another covert project named "Operation Blackbriar" which his superiors are determined to keep as clandestine as ever as most government projects tend to be.

The good thing about this final installment is that it is pretty compact and coherent in itself, it can stand on its own. I mean you don't have to rack your brains over what happened in the first two Bourne films ("Bourne Identity" and "Bourne Supremacy") to understand the story. But I admit I did watch the first two films a few days later (yes I know I should have watched them before not after, oh well!) in the comfort of my home with my beau so I could reacquaint myself with the characters. But in "Bourne Ultimatum" certain flashback scenes are neatly intertwined within the fast paced sequences. It helps jolt your memory a bit.

I also like how the plot wraps up by tying up the loose ends. Finally the scattered pieces of Jason Bourne's disruptive life are being pieced together for some closure. It's about time too, I said to myself as I watched the end credits roll by. My head still reeling from the almost 2 hours of non stop action which just unfolded on the big screen.

The ensemble supporting cast like David Straithairn, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen all contribute forcefully well in their artistic range. Even Albert Finney and Paddy Considine did good in their brief yet significant roles in this spy thriller. But of course, the main attraction and rightfully so is Matt Damon. His Jason Bourne is more mature, more character driven and has evolved quite well in this final installment. This interview in a Guardian article gives you a glimpse into how driven Matt Damon was in this role.

Non stop action from start to finish, edge of your seat gripping spy thriller! It is well acted with a good reliable cast. It has neatly edited scenes. A coherent fast paced and suspenseful plot. Good direction from Paul Greengrass who occasionally used this shaky hand held camera technique. Thus some blurry headache inducing footage but nevertheless it was such an adrenaline rush! So I guess he can be forgiven for that cinematic style.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

IRINA PALM

IRINA PALM
Marianne Faithfull, Miki Manojlovic, Kevin Bishop

CineManila
Cinema 4, Gateway Cineplex

Irina Palm

"Irina Palm" is the alluring pseudonym given to Maggie who works at an adult shop. Well if you are smart enough, you could correctly guess the service she provides based on her moniker. But the thing is Maggie isn't exactly your typical sex worker. You see she is a 50 year old widow who lives in a quiet neighborhood in a British suburb. Driven by a desperate need to gather enough funds so her ailing grandson can seek medical treatment in Australia, she suddenly finds herself working as a 'hostess' in an establishment appropriately named Sexy World. I should probably mention that Maggie as Irina Palm doesn't come face to face with her clients but merely provides the service through a little discreet hole in a wall.

The film although dealing with an obviously vulgar topic amazingly didn't come across as crass and sleazy. It helps that the male anatomy in question was never shown on screen. The camera angle would focus on Maggie's face so her work was simply implied by her gestures. There is a certain poignancy reflected through Maggie. She is obviously embarrassed about her work and goes to great length to keep it a secret from her family and her friends. The first time she tried it she was very uncomfortable about the whole situation, openly cringing each time the client finished. But it came to the point where she managed to detach herself from her 'activity' by making herself and her environment as homey as possible. She would go to work and get into her work clothes which looked like your average cleaning lady with an apron. I suppose in some ways she did provide some sort of cleansing. She even decorated the little room with picture frames of paintings from her house. I figure that was her way of coping with the terms of her very unusual job. Soon enough, word got around and she became "the best palm in London", with men lining up outside her booth to experience her unique service.

Marianne Faithfull, a renowned singer in the 50s (way before my time so I'm not familiar with her songs) portrays Maggie/Irina Palm. Her portly matronly demeanor was perfect for the role. She was able to convey a wide array of emotions. Funny, sad, poignant, even pitiful that a woman of her age range doesn't get too much opportunities in life. But mostly it is her undying love as a grandmother to provide her ailing grandson a new lease on life which would tug at your heartstrings.

I salute the fact that Sam Garbarski, the director was able to focus on the human beings involved in these type of business. He could have easily made it a sex oriented film but to his credit, thankfully he didn't. This quirky little film will make you cringe, laugh, cry and everything else in between! "Irina Palm" was the last film, I caught at the recently concluded Cine Manila.

Friday, August 17, 2007

2 DAYS IN PARIS

2 DAYS IN PARIS
Julie Delpy, Adam Goldberg

CineManila
Cinema 6, Gateway Cineplex

"He knew that Paris was for lovers.
He just didn't think they were all hers"

It is truly rare that everything I've obsessed about endlessly all blend together in just one movie. Let me elaborate. Paris is my favorite city in the whole world. I love the French language. Julie Delpy in my book can do no wrong after I saw her in Richard Linklater's "Before Sunrise", "Before Sunset" and even in her brief role in Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers". This film which she wrote, starred in and directed deals with relationships which is among my favorite topics to discuss into bits and pieces. Even now that I am in a serious and healthy relationship, I still analyze every aspect to the point of obsession. So it isn't a surprise that I saw this film, twice with two of my favorite people. First with my beau, then a few days later with my sister.

Alright, enough with the long winding intro, let’s move on to the film. Marion (Julie Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) are a couple who have been together for 2 years. Theirs is a cross cultural relationship. She is French and a photographer, he is an American interior designer and they live together in New York. After their vacation in Venice, Italy they spend 2 days in Paris at her place before they head back to the US. It just so happens that her goofy parents live below them.

It is in Paris, the city of love where their relationship is put to the test. It slowly begins to unravel and frays at the seams. Despite being a couple for 2 years, it seems Jack and Marion don’t really know each other all that well. Both of them are equally neurotic and eccentric in their own ways. Marion has an eye defect which affects her vision yet she takes pictures for a living. Jack is a hypochondriac yet he is covered with tattoos. Yet their romantic chemistry is clearly evident, never mind if they bicker all the time. For 2 days, as Marion reacquaints herself with her city, her friends and her family, she drags Jack along for the ride. Jack, a paranoid Jewish American in Paris is overwhelmed with culture shock. But it is his view of Marion who is in her elements in her familiar surroundings which suddenly changes in each frame as the film progresses. He turns into this jealously insecure in his own skin boyfriend who suspects everything bad about Marion. These instances are manifested in funny situational scenarios which elicit chuckles and even loud laughter. Yet if we analyze it down to the core, it is a seriously rude awakening for Jack. It is painful to watch a relationship which seemed solid in the beginning of the film suddenly begin to fall apart. The ironic part is that it happens in Paris of all places. So while it is Marion who guides the audience through an on and off again narration, it is clearly Jack’s point of view about the relationship that sustains the entire film.

Except for a few psychedelic shots of blurry images, the insertion of catchy French tunes to liven some scenes, the plot is pretty concise and coherently executed. Typical Parisian scenes like going to the market on weekends, attending art shows, even the different encounters with all sort of taxi drivers are authentically depicted. Rapid witty dialogue reigns as the two main characters have very good repartee. Julie Delpy and Adam Goldberg act effortlessly and convincingly that you forget they are actors. Most of the amusing part of the film occurs when Marion’s parents are in the scenes. They are portrayed by Julie Delpy’s real parents (Albert Delpy and Marie Pillet) who happen to be good French actors in their own right. The best part for me though is in the last few minutes of the film. The conflict is at its peak, an emotional confrontation ensues. Jack and Marion’s faces are expressively fraught with emotions as they desperately try to resolve the different issues - it all unfolds as Marion’s voice over narrates the muted yet poignant scene. Brilliantly executed and well acted scene, I’d say!

Yes obviously, I loved this directorial debut film of Julie Delpy. It was realistically honest, very straightforward, a refreshing departure from the usual ‘love story’ angle and downright hilarious too!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

GOODBYE BAFANA

GOODBYE BAFANA
Joseph Fiennes, Dennis Haysbert, Diane Kruger

"Based on the memoirs of Nelson Mandela's prison guard"

CineManila
Cinema 7, Gateway Cineplex


The true story based on the book written by James Gregory, the white South African prison guard of Nelson Mandela is a simple film which deals with sensitive subject matters. Discrimination, racism and the effect of the Apartheid policy during those turbulent years in South Africa's history but more importantly it is an interesting case study of one man's character development.

Joseph Fiennes portrays James Gregory from the time he was a young officer assigned to Robben Island till the time that Nelson Mandela is released after serving a 27 year prison term. As a young officer, he is still quite idealistic and full of 'hatred' towards the black South Africans. He is ably supported by his ambitious wife who is portrayed by the German actress, Diane Kruger of "Troy" fame. Gregory's ability to speak the local dialect puts him in close proximity whenever Winnie Mandela visits her husband to basically spy on their conversations for any traces of subversive activities. Eventually, his conscience as a human being prevails, we bear witness to the compassionate nature of Gregory as a special bond develops between the two main characters. The film allows us to see a different but rather unknown facet of Mandela, that of a prisoner as opposed to the larger than life figure that he has come to symbolize. But it is rather limited because after all, this film is about James Gregory's stint as a prison guard in Robben Island.

A subtle yet effective portrayal by Joseph Fiennes gives his character as well as the film some heartfelt emotions. Everything from the way he dresses to his South African accent is cleverly executed by Fiennes who in my opinion is the better actor between the two brilliant (Ralph) Fiennes brothers. His acting style doesn't involve over the top theatrics nor does he have a strikingly attractive demeanor yet he always effectively portrays each character with gusto. The only issue in this film anyway is how Gregory didn't seem to age much visibly as the years rolled by.

Dennis Haysbert's version of Mandela is good but not as forceful as I wanted it to be. He somehow lacked a certain charisma which seems to exude from the real Mandela. But as I said earlier, this isn't a film exclusively about Mandela so I guess Haysbert can be forgiven for it.

The setting is a bit constricting as it is limited to the prison island, the quarters of the Gregory family as well as the cramped prison cell of Nelson Mandela. Eventually, it evolves to the other places where Mandela was incarcerated throughout the years. But it provides a good solid background as the real story isn't about the island but the respectful bond which formed between a prisoner and his jailer. A grainy and 70s tone envelops the entire film which helps in making the events more authentic and realistic. The plot does move at a slow pace but it is still cleverly edited so the audience doesn't really get too bored watching it. Well at least I wasn't bored.

One question though that etched in my mind as the end credits rolled by after they flashed on screen what happened to the real Gregory and his family is - who exactly is Bafana and what happened to him? I think the film makers should have done some more research on the little boy, Bafana whom Gregory befriended when they were both kids. It does make me wonder if he really existed or if the film makers just added him as some sort of symbolic character. An illusion to show that Gregory as a person wasn't entirely a bigot since he himself grew up playing with 'the enemy' so to speak. It would have been more significant if they just mentioned even in passing about Bafana but I guess with Apartheid tearing the country apart during those tumultuous years, it would be impossible to trace him down, that is if he really did exist in the first place.

Fair enough!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

VOLVER

VOLVER

Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Duenas,
Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo

CineManila
Cinema 1, Gateway Cineplex

A vintage Pedro Almodovar flick with strong, feisty and multidimensional female characters reigning supreme. To reveal more about the plot would be sacrilegious because Almodovar presents this film in such a visually enticing manner, you have to experience it with your own eyes.

From the opening scene of a very windy day at the cemetery to the gastronomic feast at the restaurant, to the way his camera pans on the tissue paper as it absorbs blood - every minute detail of each scene is efficiently captured, you can't help but be awe struck at the cinematic treat. As usual, Almodovar chose women as his main characters. Women of all age, type and personality living in a world where they strive, where they do everything and where men are mostly portrayed in a bad light and/or non existent.


The sometimes funny dialogue is clearly enunciated in that normal rapid manner incumbent of the Spanish language. Several Spanish/Latin customs like the cleaning of grave sites, kissing noisily on both cheeks as a form of greeting and the whole family bonding experience centered around meals are also realistically shown with some added quirky nuances. The setting is a typical little rural Spanish town with its inherent picturesque charms like cobble stoned streets and white houses.

But I have to defer to the fact that the reason this film succeeds in telling a somewhat quirky story is due largely to Penelope Cruz. She simply radiates in this film! Her portrayal of Raimunda, a single mother with complex troubles who continues to strive in the wake of several adversities is superb. I have always believed that Penelope Cruz is best seen in Spanish movies than in those inane Hollywood ones where her English with an awkward accent tend to interfere with her acting. In "Volver" she is at her best elements. Almodovar knows exactly how to fully exploit her acting abilities. The only thing I felt was somehow out of place is the part where Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) starts lip syncing the song "Volver". It seemed forced and you could tell it wasn't her singing voice at all. But she still remains the very heart and soul of this film.

Of course she is ably supported by other good Spanish actresses. Each of them combining to give powerful performances worthy of praises. This film really deserved its numerous nominations at several award giving associations as Best Foreign Language film for 2007.

Monday, August 13, 2007

PARIS, JE T'AIME

"PARIS, JE T'AIME"
["PARIS, I LOVE YOU"]

Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Marianne Faithfull, Steve Buscemi, Rufus Sewell, Gaspart Ulliel, Daniel Podalydes, Miranda Richardson, Juliette Binoche, Gena Rowlands, Fanny Ardant, Nick Nolte, Gerard Depardieu

"Stories of Love. From the City of Love"

CineManila
Cinema 1, Gateway Cineplex


18 short stories by different directors all set in Paris, France. A montage of films each lasting about 5 minutes, cleverly edited which depicted snippets of life in the French capital. Each segment was directed by a different director and surprisingly every episode has a beginning, a middle and an ending which doesn't leave you hankering for more.
Directors like The Coen brothers, Alexander Payne, Walter Salles, Gus Van Sant, Daniel Podalydes to name a few all collaborated to come up with this refreshing concept to showcase the City of Lights through short love stories.
Stories with all kinds of emotions (sad, happy, strange, poignant, melancholic, quirky), different techniques (some had dialogues, a few were narrations, some were like silent movies, all of them with stunning cinematography), different genre (drama, musical, comedy, tragedy) and a variety of languages (French, Arabic, English, Spanish, Chinese)
A must see for lovers of Paris. The title of each episode is a locale in the French capital, places like Bastille, Montmarte, La Marais, Quais de Seine and so on and so forth. Actors from the different divides of the globe graced this film with their creative talent. The ones worth mentioning are Natalie Portman, Gaspart Ulliel, Fanny Ardant, Bob Hoskins, Rufus Sewell and yes even Steve Buscemi in a really quirky episode directed by the Coen brothers of "Fargo" fame.

My personal favorites are:
The one directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways) entitled "14e arrondissement". A Denver mailwoman, in short an American tourist amusingly narrates her Parisian trip in a heavily accented French as the camera pans to the different places she explores. The way she pronounces each French word, though correctly done, is funny because of her charming naivety.
Isabel Coixet directed "Bastille". A man in his 50s is about to leave his wife whose favorite item of clothing is a flaming red trench coat. Just as he is about to announce his intention, she tells him she has terminal cancer. The way he takes care of her throughout her illness was poignant and sad. In his attempt to quit loving her for her inadequacies, he ends up falling in love with her all over again only to lose her forever.


A montage, a collage, a medley, a travelogue - call it whatever you want - the fact remains that "Paris, je T'aime" is one delightful film to experience!

Monday, August 6, 2007

PREMONITION

PREMONITION
Sandra Bullock, Julian McMahon, Kate Nelligan, Nia Long,
Peter Stormare, Amber Valleta

"Reality is only a nightmare away"


The movie starts off a bit slow as we are introduced to the characters. Linda (Sandra Bullock) is a SAHM (stay at home mom) with two young daughters. Her life has settled into a routine. Her husband, Jim (Julian McMahon) is mostly away on business trips. One day, the sheriff shows up at her door to announce that Jim died in a horrific car accident out of town. Things evolve and gets mildly interesting when Linda wakes up the next day to find out her husband isn’t dead. But this isn’t a case of mistaken identity. Neither is it a ghost story. Although there are traces of that Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day” where he keeps reliving one particular day, over and over again, “Premonition” borders on an entirely different premise.

Without giving out much of the plot since it is better to watch it unfold, I figure the main message is - if you could change or prevent something from happening because you knew its outcome beforehand, would you? Or would you let destiny unfold and just make the most of the situation as it occurred? Or does altering a single event in your past really affect the way your life would unravel in the present? These and more questions abound when you see this film. I am not implying that the film is pretty deep like “The Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind“. Nor does it twist and turn your mind like “The Butterfly Effect“, it doesn’t. Yet it does get you thinking about life in general.

Having said that, the film is not without flaws. There are gaping loopholes you can spot a mile away. Yet the way Mennan Yapo, the director chose to execute the storyline does have some thrilling moments which will grip your senses. He could have used the time tested technique of flashbacks or to simplify matters, he could have flashed the specific day everytime Linda woke up but he didn’t. He preferred to let the audience figure it out for themselves what day it was and what would unfold on that day. So if you pay close attention, it would be pretty easy to figure things out. Although it can get a bit confusing sometimes to put the complicated pieces together. I guess it is fair to say that it gave me a headache but only because it was pretty late when I watched the film so my coherence level was a bit off. For instance, I wasn’t acute enough to notice the events which brought about the little twist at the ending. But now that I think about it, it surely does make sense after all.

Sandra Bullock did good in her taxing role given that her character was in every frame. She has always been a believable enough actress to portray these type of roles where it pays to be subdued and not resort to over the top hysterics. Julian McMahon is and always will be eye candy material. His role is rather brief in this film to make any significant impact. I was a bit surprised that Peter Stormare was cast as the psychiatrist. He came across as a thug instead of a nurturing physician so thankfully it was just a small part.

Overall, the movie does convey that during the course of our hectic and monotonous life, we tend to lose sight of the more important things. We fail to acknowledge the relevance of our life. We often strive in a purpose-less existence. The film doesn’t really give you the answers but at least it gets you thinking twice or even thrice. I guess that should count for something, right?

Friday, August 3, 2007

LICENSE TO WED

LICENSE TO WED
Robin Williams, Mandy Moore, John Krasinski, Christine Taylor, Peter Strauss, Roxanne Hart, Josh Flitter

"First came love ... then came Reverend Frank"

Cinema 6, SM Megamall


I reckon being Robin Williams isn’t easy. Not when people expect you to be funny in every single comedy that you appear. But ultimately, people need to understand that an actor is only as good as the script/plot entails. I mean is it really fair to blame Robin Williams for this flop? Or do we shift the blame to the other stars in this dismally disappointing film? Mandy Moore’s refreshingly tall figure (my polite way of saying she is an average actress) didn’t do much to salvage the film. While John Krasinski of “The Office” fame (a TV show not included in my list of shows to tune in to every week) appeared painfully rigid in some if not all the scenes. And Robin Williams well he was trying desperately to just be his usual goofy self.

So I’d blame the lack of creative talent on the part of the scriptwriters. Surely the premise was good. An overtly eager to the point of being obnoxious reverend makes engaged couples take his personalized marriage preparation course. A kind of test to judge if they are indeed ready for the trappings of married life. The course has a list of rules like “no sex before marriage” and inane silly exercises the enrolled couples must engage in. Such as carrying the bride over the threshold, dealing with crying babies (freaky dummies which look more like gargoyles than cute infants) and simulating different scenarios so the couples would know how to react during such situations. It is during these situational comedic moments where the film really falters. Somewhere between the point where Reverend Frank wiretaps their phone to eavesdrop on Sadie and Ben to the point where a conflict arises, you simply stop caring if they pass the darn course or if they even get married, after all. Yes it was that bad, unfortunately.

Since I’m a positive type of person or at least I try to be one, I need to strike a balance and find something ‘good’ about the film. I guess the ‘nice’ thing about the film would be the fact that it deals with weddings or planning one. And yes weddings or planning one is indeed stressful and hectic but it is also a happy and exciting occasion to bond as a couple. So if nothing, this film shows us how Sadie and Ben connected together as a soon to be wed couple. They dealt with conflicts amicably, always being bright and cheerful when troubles arose even though Reverend Frank was hell (no pun intended) bent on ruining the rosy picture.

Oh huh does this mean that Robin Williams is indeed the culprit? The one who ruined the film? Hmmm I guess so! Because even the outtakes at the end of the movie wasn’t funny. Oh dear, I rest my case!

 

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