Sunday, June 21, 2009


Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep,
Adam Arkin, Omar Metwally, Peter Sarsgaard

"What if someone you love ... just disappeared?"


Extraordinary Rendition is the official term that refers to the transporting to a secret detention cell in a foreign country of anyone suspected of being a terrorist. The suspect is then subject to extreme forms of interrogation like torture to extricate any vital intelligence to secure the protection of the citizens of the United States. But when confronted by anybody who demands about it, the government naturally denies everything. Even claiming that they don't sanction torture of any kind.

In the film, Anwar (Omar Metwally) an American of Egyptian heritage is 'abducted' and flown to an unknown destination. His wife (Reese Witherspoon) isn't informed of his whereabouts and seeks the help of Adam (Peter Sarsgaard) her ex-classmate who now works for a Senator (Adam Arkin).

The setting of the film flip flops between Washington D.C and an unnamed city in Northern Africa. There is a developing side plot about a pair of young teenagers caught in the struggle of Mideast violence. The standard Arabic music irritatingly lingers wherever the setting was in the Middle East.

The pacing was varied. It was a bit dragging with scenes of a pleading wife. Peppered with violent scenes of torture and disturbing angles of young men being indoctrinated with the tenets of what it means to be a suicide bomber. It is only towards the end that the pace picks up. You realize you have been subject to flashbacks intertwined within the current development of the plot.

The cast were mostly subdued in their acting. Especially Reese Witherspoon who in my opinion seemed too stoic for someone whose husband has suddenly vanished. And Jake Gyllenhaal was a bit wooden in his portrayal of a novice CIA analyst assigned to assist in the torture of the suspected terrorist. But thankfully they are ably supported by Meryl Streep and Peter Sarsgaard in small yet significant roles.

This political themed film had a stellar cast yet the storyline didn't quite deliver. It had the feel of a TV film of the week. Another run of the mill movie that explains the clandestine methods the only remaining superpower nation would resort to for the protection of its citizens. I figure the only good thing that came about from this film is the fact that Jake Gyllenhaal met Reese Witherspoon and they are now a couple. Heh!

Friday, June 19, 2009


Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross

"How far would you go to protect a secret?"

This film evolves around secrets. A secret love affair between Michael Berg (David Kross), a 15 year old boy and Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) a thirty something woman. The secret that ultimately seals Hanna's troubled fate. And Michael's (Ralph Fiennes as the older Michael) decision to conceal the said secret also ultimately affecting his guilt ridden life.

Yet although there are a lot of secrets hounding the film, the beauty lies in how these 'secrets' are slowly revealed. Powerful, dramatic yet also highly emotional scenes permeates throughout this poignant movie. A movie that a combination of a love story and war story that evolves around the two main characters.

Two uniquely different characters whose personalities are well developed and realistically portrayed by good actors. David Kross as the young Michael is refreshing to watch. His coming of age persona is characterized with his pleasantly smiley face. He was both innocently charming and brilliantly smart, at the same time in several scenes. A young German actor whose diction was flawless. He delivered his lines eloquently. His portrayal of the young Michael was memorable and registered well on screen. He also held his own when he acted opposite one of the most talented actresses in the film industry today, Kate Winslet.

This role will surely be one of the highlights of Kate Winslet's dazzling career. She was brilliant as Hanna and she truly deserved the best actress award at the Academy Awards, earlier this year. The audience will have a difficult time grasping Hanna's multi-layered but very intriguing personality. She essayed an aloof air when it comes to her affair with the young Michael. Yet in the next frame, she was also deeply emotional when he read aloud to her some of the best classic novels in literature. Then at a later stage, she exudes an air of naivete during the war crimes trial.

Ralph Fiennes as the older Michael was plausible. Michael's past indiscretions hugely affected his life. He was constantly trying to redeem himself. Towards the end, I like to believe that he indeed came clean and in some small manner was able to exorcise his personal demons.

There are several scenes of nudity but they were well executed nothing vulgar. There is a background music that lingers throughout the film without being intrusive. You hardly notice it is there unless you expressly seek it out. The setting spans through several decades in German cities like Heidelberg and Berlin. Cinematography was somewhat bleak with grainy tones. There were no disturbing images of the Holocaust yet the war crimes trial dialogue was pretty graphic.

Overall I do recommend this film for the artful way it presented a unique love story amidst a dark period in Europe's history without delving on the victims. It is more about the perpetrators of the Holocaust whose lives are also depressingly dark. In some sense they too are victims of an ugly war. But mostly watch the film for the brilliant performance of Kate Winslet and David Kross, it is worth it!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


14th French Film Festival
Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex

Geographically, Flanders is the region in parts of Belgium, France and the Netherlands where there is a thriving Flemings community. Flemings referring to the Dutch speaking population of Belgium. Historically, the Flanders fields was the venue for one of the fiercest battles ever fought in the First World War. It has even been immortalized in a Canadian poem by John McCrae entitled "In Flanders Fields" which paid tribute to the lives lost in war.

But this Bruno Dumont film isn't about the battles of the First World War. But it does feature a war nonetheless. A small town in Flanders is the home town of Andre and Barb. They both lead a monotonous existence on a farm. Andre enlists in the army and goes off to fight an unknown war. I say unknown because they don't really specify the exact location. It could be the Algerian war, the Iraq war or the one waged in the perilous region of Afghanistan. While Barb is left on her own to cope with her personal demons. A dangerous combination of depression and sex addiction.

The scenes juxtaposes between the bleak, morose setting in Flanders to the arid desert. There are really graphic violent images of war as well as gratuitous sex scenes which numb your senses.

The director uses the minimalist approach. Dialogue however limited in entirely in French with English subtitles. There are wide shot angles of scenery, extreme facial close ups with nary a sound to break the silence. Yet despite the silence, there are certain nuances which are implied. It is up to the viewer to do his own analysis about the behavior and demeanor of the main characters.

I have to say that this type of film might not appeal to everyone. Especially given the disturbing violent scenes which can really jar your mind. Plus the long footage of scenery without any dialogue or music to 'occupy' your senses.

Yet maybe the main premise is that there are certain things best left unsaid. Or that actions speak louder than words. Towards the ending though when Andre expresses his true feelings (however odd it is) there is a sense of liberation both on the part of the characters involved as well as the audience. You sort of leave the theater with a sigh of relief. Relieved that despite the hardships both Andre and Barb experienced there is a small glimmer of hope that shines in their future. That however small it is ... it is still more than we can ever hope for!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


14th French Film Festival
Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex

Nothing much really happens in this film. It is about Livia, a 15 year old girl who gets infatuated with Jean, a volunteer fireman who saves her after she fell off her horse. Worse yet it is the start of the summer school holiday in this little provincial town so poor Livia has nothing better to do than trot aimlessly. Her 'affection' for her rescuer turns to obsession as she does her best to seek his attention with very tragic consequences. But sad to say this film doesn't even come close to "Fatal Attraction" and it drifts aimlessly just like Livia during the entire movie.

At least the cinematography is crisp with images of a quiet little town surrounded by mountainous terrain. The main 'draw' would be towards the ending where a massive forest fire consumes the small town. The footage seemed totally real in some semi documentary technique. It makes me wonder if they really set the fire for the movie or the fire occurred while they were shooting the film. Either way it was graphically and realistically portrayed.

The characters are mostly bored teenagers trying to amuse themselves during their summer break. They don't have endearing personalities so the audience couldn't really care less about their plight. Soon enough the boredom lingers and lingers you just wish they would actually get a life or at least some hobby to occupy themselves with.

I guess the morale of the story is if you play with fire you will definitely get burned. Enough said!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


14th French Film Festival
Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex

The title reveals it all, doesn't it? Marie-Jo is a middle aged woman who is happily married to Daniel yet she is also having a torrid affair with Marco.

The setting is the coastal town of Marseille. Cinematography is breathtaking with scenes of the Mediterranean sea. Thus giving the film an airy, breezy vibe. Even though the main premise is a complex love story.

The three main characters are well developed and they expressively conveyed a varied array of emotions. It is difficult to understand how a woman can equally love two men, at the same time. Yet in the film, Marie-Jo strangely enough does indeed love both her husband and her lover with the same intensity. I like to believe it is only in Europe or in the Western world where such a scenario is plausible without the two guys involved killing each other for the affections of one woman. Or maybe it only happens in the movies? I have no idea.

Nonetheless, this film is a good character study of three entirely different personalities. You cannot really blame her affair on a miserable marriage. Because on the contrary, Marie-Jo and Daniel still have an active sex life, their business is flourishing, their only daughter is successful, they have a comfortable home and they can afford some excesses like a small boat. In short, their life is 'almost' perfect.
On the other hand, Daniel's silent acceptance of the affair is mysterious. We never get to know for sure what he really feels about it yet we are led to believe he is definitely in pain and conflicted over his wife's betrayal.
As for Marco, well he is also an interesting character to watch. The silent brooding type who is well traveled, good mannered and culturally inclined.

But yes eventually Marie-Jo does confront her issues and in the end, she tragically made her final decision which for me raises a lot of questions. Questions about her actions, her decisions and her motives. So I agree that the film was well presented and well played out with a talented cast.

In my opinion it doesn't really aim to project a moral stance on the behaviors of its characters. It is entirely up to the audience to conjure up their own opinions, beliefs on Marie-Jo's shortcomings as a woman, as a mother and more importantly as an human being.

Monday, June 8, 2009


14th French Film Festival
Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex

Even though the lead actor (Jacques Dutronc) doesn't resemble the famous painter physically, he did a pretty good job in portraying the painter as a mentally conflicted soul. A man haunted by a sense of inadequacy regarding his paintings and ravaged with a strange mental illness (severe depression) yet he also lived his last days with so much vibrant passion and intoxicated vigor.

This film presented the last 2 months (67 days) of his life which he spent in the quiet and idyllic surroundings of Auvers sur Oise, a small suburb off Paris. The setting is in the late 1890s yet aside from the authentic wardrobe depicting the era, I somehow got the sense that the narrative could have been currently unfolding in some small French provincial town.

The biopic showed the various characters who interacted with Van Gogh were a diverse group. From the plain innocent daughter of Dr Gachet who falls in love with the painter, the worldly prostitutes in the brothels which Van Gogh regularly patronized to his immediate family consisting of his brother Theo, an art dealer and his wife, Joanna. They all offered a sense of what makes him tick as a painter and a person.

The cinematography naturally veered towards images of the vast luscious French countryside, the small town like setting to the visuals of the excesses of a Parisian brothel.

The dialogue is entirely in French with English subtitles.

The pacing of the film was a bit slow in the middle part of the biopic. Certain sequences were too long and seemed to drag on forever. While the significant parts (in my opinion) were rather brief and not too elaborate, unfortunately.

Overall though, I believe it is a realistic portrayal about the final days of Vincent Van Gogh. His personal demons eventually overwhelming his conflicted soul. After all, history does show that most of the greatest artists that ever existed indeed led very colorful, complex and melodramatic lives. So Van Gogh was in excellent company. Heh!

Friday, June 5, 2009


Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Paul Giamatti, Tom Wilkinson

"Outwit. Outspy. Outsmart. Outplay.
Then get out."

Cinema 12, SM Megamall

OK so if it weren't for the two bankable stars playing the main characters in this spy themed drama (with some tinge of comedy), this film wouldn't really be successful. The time frame is confusing, there are many flashback sequences and you can develop a headache trying to get a sense of what is really going on. But the trick is to pay close attention as the story unfolds because eventually when you are back in the comfort of your couch and you got more time to piece the events together, you finally get the whole premise. Just bear in mind that the movie works on the theory that you simply cannot trust anyone especially when you are dealing with experts in the espionage business.

Claire (Julia Roberts) is a former CIA agent. While Ray (Clive Owen) used to work for the British Intelligence. After one steamy encounter, their paths are invariably intertwined as they both scheme to outdo, outwit each other this time in the intriguing and highly lucrative field of corporate espionage.

Their story unfolds in a sequence of never ending flashbacks peppered within the main plot. This is where you need to pay attention so you can get a semblance of exactly when the main premise of the film is hatched by the 'feuding' spies. Their numerous encounters take them to the most beautiful cities in the world like Dubai, Zurich and Rome. Therefore the slick cinematography is like a mini travelogue buoyed with a soundtrack reminiscent of an Ocean Eleven movie.

I admit the main reason I watched this movie is for Julia Roberts (I'm her avid fan) and Clive Owen (I believe he is a very talented actor). Their chemistry on screen is a brilliant collaboration of fine acting, good timing and well delivered dialogue. They have great rapport and it was a delight to watch them interact with each other. They are ably supported by a cast of minions who are at their beck and call and certainly do their share in complicating the already murky plot. Most notably Paul Giamatti and Tom Wilkinson in very small yet highly significant roles.

The thrilling moments in the first part of the film was fast paced and edgy. The mid section seem to falter a bit because at this point you either lose interest with the many subplots or you are on full mental alert trying to keep pace. Then the little twist in the ending seemed a bit anti-climatic yet played out really well in the unpredictability factor. But if anything, this film proves that big corporations would go to great lengths to protect their trade secrets.

So if you are in the mood for some espionage cum romantic comedy then this film should please you. If not then simply watch the film for the excellent rapport between Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. It is worth it, believe me!

Thursday, June 4, 2009



Screening Schedule from June 5-14 Shang Cineplex, Cinema # 3

Un Secret 12:30 pm
Ca Brule 3:00 pm
Jean dela Fontaine 5:30pm
Van Gogh 8:00 pm

Home 12:30 pm
Marie-Jo et Ses Deux Amours 3:00 pm
Flandres 5:30 pm
Ma Saison Preferee 8:00pm

Van Gogh 12:30 pm
Flandres 3:30 pm
Ca Brule 5:30 pm
Zim et Co 8:00 pm

Zim et Co 12:30 pm
Marie-Jo et Ses Deux Amours 3:00 pm
Flandres 5:30 pm
Jean dela Fontaine 8:00 pm

Ca Brule 12:30 pm
Home 3:00 pm
Van Gogh 5:30 pm
Un Secret 8:30 pm

June 11 (THURSDAY)
Dix-Sept Fois Cecile Cassard 12:30 pm
Les Quatre Cent Coups 3:00 pm
L ‘Esquive 5:30 pm
La Pianiste 8:00 pm

JUNE 12 (FRIDAY) (Tribute to Philippine Cinema)
Andong / Sabongero 3:00 pm
Serbis 5:30 pm
Independencia 8:00 pm

Ridicule 12:30 pm
Dix-Sept Fois Cecile Cassard 3:00 pm
L ‘Esquive 5:30 pm
Flandres 8:00 pm

Un Secret 12:30 pm
Jean dela Fontaine 3:00 pm
Les Quatre Cent Coups 5:30 pm
Van Gogh 8:00 pm

Monday, June 1, 2009


The Shangri-La Plaza presents avid moviegoers the chance to experience the magic of France with the French Film Festival. To be held from June 6 to 14 at the Shang Cineplex, Cinema 3.

The event features 15 poignant films that capture the beauty and essence of the country.

Free admission on a first-come, first-served basis.

For screening schedules call 633-7851.

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