Saturday, March 22, 2008



"A Global Warning"

I just started reading Michael Crichton's novel "State of Fear", a complex tale about global warming. Although clearly a fictional tale, the novel does have evidential facts about climate change. Plus my sister had to write a whole supplement about the effects of climate change in the tourism industry. So I thought it would do me some good to watch this documentary presented by Al Gore. The film traces the former U.S. Vice President as he delivers his lecture on climate change to different colleges. His powerpoint presentation does present visual and graphic footage about the effects of this phenomenon. We are shown graphs, slides as well as real clips of natural disasters hitting different parts of the world like Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami which swept through parts of Asia. He does give a rather vivid and bleak picture about the future of our planet. It is a big problem that needs to be addressed immediately. Both by the industrialized countries, the huge corporations as well as every human being on earth.

So while Al Gore was effective in broadcasting this dire situation by presenting this documentary, it also served as some pat on the back tribute to himself. The documentary was interjected with clips/footage of his personal life. From black and white home movies of his childhood days in Texas to this campaign sorties when he ran for President and dismally lost to the current U.S President. It suddenly became the main focus of the film. This blatant self promotion to almost heroic proportions is what ruined the docufilm for me. He should have just stuck to the topic at hand - the ill effects of climate change to the environment! Perhaps (I am second guessing here) he wanted to highlight the campaign by making it more personal and less technical. Yet I got the distinct feeling he wanted us to applaud him for being brave enough to talk about a boring scientific topic. It was totally a shameless plug about his attributes. A pity because the scientific facts alone would have worked to convey his point across this widely distributed docufilm. Besides there I was watching this docufilm on a hot March afternoon. I was sitting in my room with beads of sweat running down my forehead and my back - that is all the proof I need that indeed global warming does exists!

Friday, March 21, 2008


Natasha Richardson, Ralph Fiennes, Lynn Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave, Hiroyuki Sanada, Madeleine Daly, Madeleine Potter

This movie adaptation of the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro was the last collaboration between Ismail Merchant and James Ivory. The same author of "The Remains of the Day" regales us with a story set in Shanghai in the 1930s. A thriving yet chaotic period before the Japanese army invades Shanghai. The main characters are from very different spectrum of society. But all equally conflicted, flawed and fascinating bunch of characters in their own right.

Todd Jackson (Ralph Fiennes) is a blind American diplomat assigned in Shanghai. A troubled man prone to drinking in shady clubs. One day, he is 'saved' by a Russian countess, Sofia Belinskaya (Natasha Richardson) who has fallen on hard times. A single mother who also supports her aristocratic in laws by working as a bar girl in a dance bar/club. Jackson then decides to put up his own bar/club and calls it "the White Countess". He hired Sofia as the muse and the inspiration for his club. She acts as its hostess/receptionist. The diplomat and the Countess' relationship is pretty vague. They both try to keep it as professional as possible. Yet as the film progresses you can sense an underlying romantic factor developing between them. Set in such volatile times, Shanghai was a hotbed for a myriad of characters. You have the Communists, Taiwanese, foreign expats, diplomats as well as Japanese spies all mingling with each other. Jackson also strikes a deep friendship with a mysterious Japanese man named Matsuda (Hiroyuki Sanada from "The Last Samurai").

This love story takes some time to develop. In the first few sequences, we are introduced to the interesting mix of characters. James Ivory chose to reveal certain facts about the characters lives in installment. His technique was to use some flashbacks as well as in the dialogue of the film. The languages used were English, Chinese, French, some Russian and Japanese as well.
But the plot line itself is quite solid and flows effortlessly from one scene to another. It culminates in a gripping scene of intense action of people trying to escape as the invading Japanese army enters Shanghai.

The cast is a powerful ensemble of very talented British actors. Ralph Fiennes does well in his usual type of role - the anguished 'broken' man with a troubled past. His portrayal of the blind diplomat was forceful in a subtle way. Natasha Richardson was a luminous presence as the Countess Sofia. For a big woman she came across as quite sensual and feminine. They are ably supported by her own mother and her aunt, the indomitable Redgrave sisters, Vanessa and Lynn in small yet very relevant roles. Special mention goes to Hiroyuki Sanada as the mysterious Japanese spy Matsuda. He held his own against Ralph Fiennes in their scenes together. Their good repartee and healthy exchange of ideas gave the film some intellectual depth.

The White Countess is everything you would expect from a Merchant and Ivory production without the 'stuffy' factor. If you've seen their past movies, you'd know what I mean. It has well drawn characters, a solid plot and set in an era of uncertainty and despair. Yet despite and in spite of the tragedy, the film had depth and is very soulful, heartwarming rendition of the book.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Pierce Brosnan, Gerard Butler, Maria Bello

"Lives will be broken"

It was released in the US with a different title "Shattered". But when I picked it up from the video store, it was marketed as "Butterfly on a Wheel".

I had no idea about this movie but its 3 main cast characters known for their good acting skills attracted me.

Abby (Maria Bello) and Neil (Gerard Butler) are a suburban couple whose lives are suddenly interrupted by a 'con artist' named Tom (Pierce Brosnan). He holds their little daughter hostage in their home as he demands the couple to do tasks on his bidding. He sits at the back seat of their car barking orders at them. Taking them all over town following his instructions. Most of the film is about these tasks they have to do. As the plot progresses you try to figure out what are the real motives of Tom. He is portrayed as this mysterious guy who suddenly shows up at their back seat one day when they head for town. Until the very last pivotal scene I have to admit I had no idea who, what, why Tom Ryan suddenly invaded Abby and Neil's seemingly perfect life. Then it is all suddenly revealed with not just one but two twists and ends just like the way it started. Gripping and shocking!

Shattered does truly best describe everything about the film. From the plot, the characters complicated lives, the dialogue even to the double twist in the end.
I mean that in a good way. The edgy plot was evolving at a good pace. The buildup to the climax was gripping and absorbingly clever. The characters true selves are revealed in ways you don't think possible. The cast gives credible performances. A movie that deals with trust issues, bitter conflicts, a betrayal, subtle vengeance and sweet redemption.

Not too complicated nor too easy to figure either. It makes for a good lazy weekend viewing within your comfort zone.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


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Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Sarah Polley, Mark Ruffalo, Scott Speedman, Amanda Plummer, Deborah Harry

The first time I came across the names Isabel Coixet and Sarah Polley was last year at the Spanish film festival. Their collaboration was for a film called "The Secret Life of Words". It was a deeply moving story presented in such a simple way. But the film still registers strong emotions within me several months after I saw it.

"My Life without Me" is an earlier film from the Spanish director and the Canadian actress which was released in 2003. It has the same simplistic approach in film technique with minimal sounds yet once again focuses on a heavy theme.

This time it deals with death. Ann (Sarah Polley) is a young mother of 2 daughters who lives in a trailer with her mostly unemployed husband. She works the night shift as a cleaning lady at one of the local universities. She is diagnosed with cancer yet hides her illness from her family. The story traces the measures she takes to live her life to the fullest while preparing for her impending death. Somehow despite such a gloomy subject matter, the film doesn't have a depressing tone. Instead it showcases Ann's efforts to put her life in order guided by a list of things she wants to do before she dies. Not worldly stuff like go traveling around the world, shopping sprees or feasting on gastronomic delights. Nope. Her list consists of trivial things like a new hair style, getting false nails, saying what you really want to say without worrying about hurting people's feelings among others. Naturally certain essentials like making voice tapes for her 2 daughters until their 18th birthdays and also finding a suitable partner for her husband. It is best you watch the film to see if she gets to do all the items on her bucket list.

The film is quite amateurish in some aspects. Certain shots are not properly framed. Sometimes I get the impression they used only one camera through out the entire film. But it doesn't diminish the fact that the story line is solid and concise. The plot never loses its focus.
There are steady acting performances from the cast. Notably Sarah Polley whose sad plain face can be quite expressive. You also have Mark Ruffalo, Debbie Harry (Ms Blondie herself) and Scott Speedman (from the TV show "Felicity") providing good supporting roles.

I figure sometimes it doesn't really take much technical or visual effects to have a moving, emotional (film) experience. Sometimes we rely on the jarring soundtrack or the fast paced action scenes to amuse our short attention span when it only takes a simple solid storyline to convey a message. In our own simple way we can live our life to the fullest without expecting too much or aiming too high for it.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


Khalid Abdalla, Atossa Leoni, Shaun Toub, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada, Homayoun Ershadi

Cinema 1, Robinsons Galleria

"There is a way to be good again" is the tag line of this film adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's bestseller novel. I figure it was alluding to Amir, the main character's chance at redemption after some disturbing pitfalls from his childhood. A period bound by a strong brotherly bond with his friend, Hassan a Hazara servant boy in his father's employ. But also a period marred with betrayals, distrust and failed misgivings. The tag line is contemplative and suits the gist of the story.

Unfortunately or fortunately as the case may be, I read Hosseini's gripping novel and I would say there is much to be desired with Amir's chance of redeeming his soul from his guilty past. I had nothing but contempt for Amir's weak nature when I read his story unfold page after page. Yet at the same time, I admire the author's narrative about Amir's life. You understand where this weakness stems from, why he has a very low self esteem. Everything Amir did was to become a better person in the eyes of his rather demanding father. Hassan was a vital part of his life yet at the same time Amir always felt inferior vis a vis Hassan's skills at kite running. Hassan in a manner of speaking had the "it" factor yet he also knew his humble position in society. Alright so I won't delve into a psychoanalysis of a flawed fictional character (Amir) and just go back to my impressions on the film.

I watched it with my fiance who didn't read the novel. He gave mostly positive feedback on the film. I do agree with his observations. It is a poignant tale of friendship during a period of great upheavals both for the characters and the troubled land they called home. It had endearing well developed characters especially the young Hassan. He is portrayed in the film by a young boy with such boyish charm you just want to reach out and give him a big hug. It was also interesting to watch Baba jan, Amir's father. His transition from a wealthy, respectable merchant in Afghanistan to a clerk in a convenience store in the US was a heartfelt performance. He was one of my favorite characters in the novel and in the movie too for that matter.

The fact that the dialogue is mostly in the native tongue of Afghanistan was a significant factor, giving it some local flavor. But mostly the film was a visceral testament to the turmoils that Afghanistan went through the years. From its heydays, followed by the Soviet invasion then the reign of the Taliban it is all historically accurate. A picturesque cinematography was visually appealing. Scenes of snow capped mountainous terrain to the war ravaged scenes of bare streets, the landscape was depicted, realistically. The film soared high during the kite flying competition. It was magical watching those vibrant colored kites fluttering in the clear blue kites You can almost feel the wind in your face. The opening credits in the beginning of the film graphically presented on the screen with beautiful Arabic/Persian calligraphy is a clever work of artistic talent. Giving the film yet again an ethnic tone.

So to answer my earlier pondering:
Is the movie a good adaptation of the novel?
Yes, Marc Forster's adaptation was concise. It was a neatly edited, well directed poignant film. The controversial scene about the disturbing incident (which for me is the main turning point in the novel) wasn't vulgar. No cringing awkward moment.

Or was it a big letdown like "Memoirs of a Geisha"?
Not at all. In fact I dare say it is better than the novel, which was a bit tedious to read. But of course a film adaptation won't or can't capture all the nitty gritty details in the book. Overall the main gist of the story was well conveyed without losing its key emotional elements. Naturally to get a better understanding of the characters' inner conflicts, it is advisable to read the book before you watch the movie. But if you have no intention of reading the book, the movie itself can stand on its own merit.

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