Monday, February 28, 2011

The 83rd Annual Academy Awards


They wanted to cater to the younger demographic audience so the organizers decided to get not one but two young stars to anchor the creme of all awards, The Oscars.

Anne Hathaway who had too many wardrobe changes was too gigglish to be taken seriously. While James Franco was too serious and looked like he would pass out from the stressful pressure of co-hosting the show. But at least Anne made an effort to appear as if she was enjoying herself, unlike James Franco who was also a nominee in the Best Actor category for "127 Hours", he was so boring.

But I persevered to watch the rather dull show. I watched the elaborate productions numbers. I admired the lavish set designs. I cheered when my favorites won. I paid close attention to the acceptance speeches. I was really invested in the whole show because for once (in a long while) I was actually able to watch most of the films nominated in several categories.

Here is the complete list of all the winners:

Best Picture
"The King's Speech"

Best Actor
Colin Firth, "The King's Speech"

Best Actress
Natalie Portman, "Black Swan"

Best Director
Tom Hooper, "The King’s Speech"

Best Supporting Actress
Melissa Leo, "The Fighter"


Best Supporting Actor
Christian Bale, "The Fighter"

Best Music (Original Song)
"We Belong Together" from "Toy Story 3"

Best Film Editing
"The Social Network"

Best Visual Effects
"Inception"

Best Documentary (Feature)
"Inside Job"

Best Short Film (Live Action)
"God of Love"

Best Documentary (Short Subject)
"Strangers No More"

Best Costume Design
"Alice in Wonderland"

Best Makeup
"The Wolfman"

Best Sound Editing
"Inception"

Best Sound Mixing
"Inception"

Best Music (Original Score)
"The Social Network"

Best Foreign Language
"In a Better World" (Denmark)

Best Screenplay
"The King's Speech"

Best Adapted Screenplay
"The Social Network"

Best Animated Film
"Toy Story 3"

Best Short Film (Animated)
"The Lost Thing"

Best Cinematography
"Inception"

Best Art Direction
"Alice in Wonderland"

Friday, February 25, 2011

BLACK SWAN

Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel
Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder


Cinema 6, Trinoma




I believe that as young girls we all dreamt of being a ballerina. The tutus, the classical music, the pas de deux steps were all very fascinating for our very young impressionable minds. Naturally, we move on to more lofty ambitions, one that is within our reach.

But the fascination with ballet never really leaves you. I still have this musical box which once opened had this little ballerina figurine dancing to the Swan Lake music. Well the music still plays faintly but the figurine has long been misplaced.

So a film that features ballet as its central theme would surely draw in the crowds, well mostly the female variety. But "Black Swan" is not a film merely about ballet. It also deals with obsession, jealousy, insanity and the need to always be perfect all the time.

Artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel) selects Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) as a leading candidate for the role of the heroine -- the white swan -- as well as the antagonistic black swan who seduces and steals her prince. All of this is exceptionally demanding for Nina, who we notice is an emotionally frail human being prone to strange dreams and hallucinations.

She has an unusually close relationship with her retired ballerina single mother (Barbara Hershey) who has a creepy controlling attitude. She must also face stiff competition from a young rising ballerina named Lily (Mila Kunis) who has been cast as her alternate. Lily is the complete opposite of the demure, stoic Nina. She is more carefree, liberated and willing to take risks. All of which sort of pushes Nina to the brink of insecurity and paranoia.

Director Darren Aronofsky does a spectacular job of drawing the audience deep into Nina's inner turmoil, making the viewer feel every uncomfortable twist of her slow decline into mental instability. The film quickly becomes very surreal and unsettling as we witness Nina's anxiety, fear, confusion, and she is slowly coming unhinged. This arrives complete with a rising curve of jarring moments to reflect Nina's mental and emotional disintegration as she strives for perfection always just out of reach.

The dance sequences are beautifully choreographed and exquisitely filmed, a blend of swirling beauty and mind-bending disorientation. The majestic music of Swan Lake becomes the perfect soundtrack to the building insanity, with an on-stage climax of operatic proportions.

Natalie Portman as Nina was incredible. I read that under the 'sadistic' prodding of Aronofsky she went through rigorous training to learn ballet. She even lost 20 pounds to achieve her ballerina stance. And all those sessions paid off as she delivered a great performance in a role that surely deserves the Best Actress trophy in any if not all of the awards shows. Her transformation from a slightly unstable dancer obsessed with perfection to the unveiling of her darker moments were believable but no less shocking to watch.

The other talented cast composed of Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis and Barbara Hershey also performed well in their supporting roles. But truly the Black Swan thrives solely on the enigmatic presence of Natalie Portman.

This brings me to note that I was reminded of Aronofsky's other film, "The Wrestler" starring Mickey Rourke. The themes about obsession, jealousy, paranoia and striving for perfection are the same. He dared to explore the flip side of beauty, with all its ugly consequences – all in pursuit of the perfect performance.

I really recommend this dark psychological thriller for one reason - to watch Natalie Portman deliver an award winning performance. That should be enough, in my opinion.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

UNKNOWN

Liam Neeson, Diane Kruger, January Jones
Aidan Quinn,Frank Langella, Bruno Ganz


"Take back your Life"


Cinema 8, SM MegaMall




Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and his wife Elizabeth (January Jones) arrive in Berlin to attend a bio tech conference. When they reach the impressive Adlon hotel, he realizes he left his briefcase at the airport. So he jumps into a taxi to get back to the airport. En route, he has a horrible car accident and he suffers severe head trauma. Four days later in a hospital, he wakes up from a coma. The physician inquires if he knows who he is because there were no identification on his person. He replies he is Martin Harris, an American doctor in town for a conference.

Suffering from a blurry state of mind with bouts of amnesia, he returns to the hotel to look for his wife. But she doesn't recognize him and insists she has never seen him in her life. The worse part is that another person has assumed his identity and claims he is the real Martin Harris, complete with the proper credentials.

That whole introduction is pretty much revealed in the trailer/teaser for this film. So I didn't reveal any spoilers. Heh! The rest of the film follows the hapless Martin who has lost everything as he roams the streets of Berlin in a quest to unravel the truth. He must now figure out what happened to his life. At the same time, he encounters some characters who may or may not be beneficial in helping him put the puzzles together.

It is mostly standard Euro thriller territory: iconic urban locales, sleek car chases, throbbing underground clubs and scenes of sneaking into and out of buildings and disappearing in crowds. The writers have done a good job of incorporating the surreal and the crazy aspects of learning that someone has taken your place in the world.

And there is no better person to portray this role than Liam Neeson. His characterization is genuinely credible. His towering physique can be menacing yet he can also be very subtle at the same time. He is able to truly impart to the audience Martin's intense struggle with sanity and the inner turmoil of finding the truth behind the complicated chaos.

The supporting cast (Diane Kruger, Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Frank Langella) did well in contributing to the suspense filled thriller. But I did have some issues with the rigidly bad acting of January Jones. And it wasn't because she was portraying an icy cold character, she didn't add any depth to her role.

As I was watching I certainly could not clearly figure out what was going on. It was only when another towering figure in the form of Frank Langella's character shows up towards the end that I got the light bulb moment. The sudden shocking revelations come towards you at a very fast pace. Everything nicely falls into place with an explosive conclusion that nicely wraps up the entire film.

To conclude, I did enjoy the film. It was entertaining, fast paced with a current theme (bio technology) and shot in historical Berlin. A city I was fortunately able to visit in 2001. I have fond memories of my stay there and this film was able to capture the vibrant essence of the German capital.

Monday, February 21, 2011

THE FIGHTER

Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Melissa Leo, Amy Adams



This biopic tells the story of the early years of boxer "Irish" Micky Ward portrayed by Mark Wahlberg. His much older half brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale), a former boxer helped train him to become a professional fighter. The setting is in the early 1990s in a working class neighborhood in suburban America.

Micky lives with Alice (Melissa Leo) his ferocious mother/manager and his 7 rowdy sisters. His father and uncle coach him as well. So Micky finds himself overwhelmed by the eccentricities of his dysfunctional family. To make matters worse, he also has to deal with the drug addiction of Dicky who happens to be his very unreliable trainer. Dicky is being filmed by a camera crew and he thinks they are interested in him because he's planning a ­boxing comeback but actually they are recording the decline and fall of a drug addict.

With Dicky's drug problem overshadowing his brother's training, Micky is on a losing streak. It is only when Micky meets feisty bartender Charlene (Amy Adams) that things start to look up. She persuades him to cut loose from his family to stand a chance in the ring. When Mickey does get a shot at the championship, however, his path to the title bout takes a series of unexpected twists and turns.

Christian Bale pretty much steals the limelight from Mark Wahlberg even though his role is supposed to be in a supporting capacity. His portrayal of the flawed, broken ex boxer was impressive so his nomination in various awards show is well deserved. For research on this role, Mark Wahlberg used to hang out at the Wild Card gym in LA to watch Pacquiao's training sessions for his boxing bouts. So his fighting techniques were on the dot. Much praise also goes to Amy Adams and Melissa Leo for their credible characterization of feisty and strong women.

Overall, I expected a more in depth visualization about the lives of the two brothers. I somehow kept comparing it to "The Wrestler" which gave Mickey Rourke's career a much needed boost. And sadly "The Fighter" fails in comparison. Therefore, the only redeeming aspect of this film would be the good performance by Christian Bale. Otherwise it's just another film about boxing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

THE KING'S SPEECH

Colin Firth, Helena Bonham-Carter, Geoffrey Rush
Guy Pierce, Derek Jacobi


"It takes leadership to confront a nation's fear.
It takes friendship to conquer your own."



The film begins with Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth) who desperately struggles to deliver a speech at Wembley Stadium during the 1924 Empire exhibition. His stammering causes much embarrassment both for the Duke as well as his captive audience who can't bear to look at him.

After being subjected to such humiliation, Bertie (his nickname) submits to be treated by 'an expert' who not only aggravates the situation but further humiliates the already very frustrated Duke with his speech impediment.

So his ever supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) arranges for him to see Lionel Logue, an unorthodox speech therapist. Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) does not know Elizabeth's true identity at first. And even after she reveals to him who she really is and who his patient will be, Lionel insists upon having Albert come to see him in person at his little crummy office.

The working relationship between Bertie and Lionel gets off to a bumpy start. As neither of them are willing to compromise what they believe in and stand steadfast in their stubborn ways. But it turns into an unlikely lifelong friendship. The film portrays how the class barriers are broken down in a time where solidarity was key with such uncertain times ahead.

Times were indeed volatile. Upon the death of King George V, the Duke of Windsor Edward (Guy Pierce) assumes the throne with much reluctance. Eventually, he abdicates his reign and steps down to be with the woman he loves, the twice divorced Mrs Wallis Simpson. So the next in line is poor Bertie. The second son of King George V, he has led a somewhat secluded life with his wife and two daughters. Now faced with ruling a vast empire and a country on the brink of war, his remarkable relationship with Lionel Logue in my opinion definitely saved the day for the monarchy.

This movie about a unique friendship was a delight to watch. It tore down the rigid walls that tend to envelop the monarchy and presented us with a very concrete and vivid look into ordinary human beings who just happen to live extraordinary complex lives as members of the royalty.

The movie was nicely edited and well executed. Its director was able to draw out every nuance and thought process from the characters, especially Firth who has the biggest challenge of conveying the inner turmoil of a man who could not verbally express what he wished. And he did a fantastic job that you can't help but cheer him on as he made great progress and was able to conquer his limitations.

An equally great actor, Geoffrey Rush as eccentric and unorthodox speech therapist Lionel Logue gave a superb performance. There is an equally wonderful and immensely witty performance from Helena Bonham Carter, too, as the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth I, in her heyday. Even though her role was rather short. I did however think that Guy Pierce was too young to be cast as Prince Edward but could clearly see his resemblance to the embattled Duke of Windsor.

This is certainly a great movie and truly deserves all the accolades it got and continues to receive from critics and moviegoers everywhere.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

PARTIR
(LEAVING)

Kristin Scott Thomas, Yvan Attal, Sergi Lopez



In the quiet opening scene of this French movie, a single shot is heard then the title credits comes on. The story resumes 6 months earlier as we take a glimpse into the lives of Suzanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Samuel. A wealthy married couple living in the south of France with their 2 teenagers. They may be rich and all but obviously their marriage is NOT a happy one. Samuel (Yvan Attal) is a doctor and he comes across as a control freak. He reluctantly pays for the renovation of an old shed to be converted into Suzanne's office. She desperately wants to revive her physiotherapist career after years of tending the household.

Unfortunately for him, this leads to a crisis in their faltering marriage. Suzanne falls in love with Ivan (Sergi Lopez) an ex-con, Spanish immigrant handyman who is the complete opposite of her bourgeois husband. Her rash decision to leave her husband and fall in total lust for a working class builder seems really irrational. Yet we notice a complete change in her demeanor as a sense of bliss envelops her entire being.

The first half of the movie is fraught with questions. Like "what on earth has gotten into Suzanne?" and "why did she tell Samuel of her illicit affair?" Then as the melodramatic scenes factor in, the plot just turns into a complex mess much like the life that Suzanne has chosen to embark on.

This surely can't possibly end happily as the shot that rings out in the opening scene resonates and reminds us about it. And as most European movies go, the film's final act is an open ended scene. We are left to form our own conclusions from watching Suzanne as a wild-eyed and nearly feral human being reduced to nothing but want. So while "Partir" doesn't really bring anything new to the table as far as illicit affairs are concerned, it is a testament of the way a fine actor (Kristin Scott Thomas) can tell us a story merely from her facial expression and barely needing words.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

DUE DATE

Robert Downey Jr, Zach Galifianakis
Jamie Foxx, Michelle Monaghan


"Check yourself before you wreck yourself"




Robert Downey Jr. is Peter Highman, an expectant father who is not allowed to board a plane after an altercation. He then finds himself stuck in a small car for the long drive from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the guy driving happens to be Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis), the person who caused the 'altercation'.

Soon enough, these mismatched 'buddies' embark on a very long road trip. One that is certainly not an easy ride as two complete strangers are forcibly brought together in such a confined space. The eccentric Tremblay is carrying the ashes of his late father and dreams of snaring a guest spot on the TV show "Two and a Half Men" so his destination is Hollywood in Los Angeles. While Peter is a high strung executive rushing to get home to be with his wife who is due to give birth.

Due Date has very unlikable characters. Tremblay is a childish slob who can't be taken seriously. While Peter has an angry and often violent personality. Both of them were really jerks. I found it hard to empathize with their plight. In fact, both of them deserved each other.

The plot was totally not credible and certainly not funny. It bordered on vulgar and really crass situations which made me cringe with despair. The only 'good' thing I figure are the two lead actors who have good rapport. I guess it takes talent to play really obnoxious characters and act them out to a lousy script. Sigh!

Friday, February 11, 2011

127 HOURS

James Franco, Treat Williams, Kate Burton
Kate Mara, Amber Tamblyn


"There is no force more powerful than the will to live"


Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex



This latest film from Danny Boyle, the director of "Slumdog Millionaire" is an adaptation of Aron Ralston's autobiography entitled "Between a Rock and a Hard Place". Aron Ralston (James Franco) is a young, carefree guy who likes to live life to the fullest edge.

In 2003, the experienced mountain climber decided to go canyoning in Utah without telling a soul. He accidentally slipped into a lonely crack in the canyon and gets his arm pinned by a giant boulder. 127 Hours documents the time between Ralston finding himself in this unenviable situation and ultimately freeing himself in a bloody and very drastic manner.

It is entirely possible that this very sticky situation could have been avoided if he had told someone about his whereabouts on that very ordinary day. Yet he strikes me as a fellow who knows no boundaries so he basically will live his life as he pleases. Case in point, he never answers any of his mother's calls and lets the answering machine eat up her how.are.you.doing messages.

So there he is stuck in a very delicate position wondering how he can free himself while chipping away at the boulder with a very useless piece of Made in China knife and wondering when he is going to die all alone without anyone knowing where he is. Sad, really.

So as he ponders during this 127 period of isolation, grainy flashbacks and glimpses of his existence are shown through hallucinations he experiences as his mind and body slowly begin to fade in and out of consciousness. So this film isn't simply about a man who amputates his arm to free himself but it is also a journey of self awareness and redemption for a free spirited guy who finally discovers his limitations.

The entire strength of the film weighs down heavily on James Franco's shoulders. He is naturally in every frame and he delivers, brilliantly. Putting in a credible performance that is worthy of the best actor nominations he has accumulated in the awards shows.

Franco is able to reel you into Ralston's confused and panicked mind. The defining moment both for Aron and the film comes when he horribly realizes what he must do to survive. He rather lose one of his limbs to see his family and friends again than to die alone in a canyon. Watching the last few minutes of the film is a harrowing experience. The scene where he cuts off his arm is unpleasant, gory and very visceral. I covered my eyes but I could still hear his screams.

Cinematography was vivid with the vast expanse of the canyon as well as the different hues. The frenetic phase of editing and the psychedelic flash of colors was a bit jarring. The blaring bursts of very loud and deafening music was the most irritating part of the movie for me. But if that's the way that Boyle chose to tell Aron Ralston's tale of survival and personal triumph, so be it!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS

Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Josh Gad


Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex



Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the son of overachieving parents who finds himself wandering in a lackluster career path. That is until, he embarks on a stressful and highly competitve job as a pharmaceutical rep for one of the biggest drug companies, Pfizer. He finds himself assigned to a rusty stretch of the American heartland and is constantly hounded by his supervisor (Oliver Platt) to reach the quota. While at the same time, he finds his well oiled competitor beating him to the punch and crunch of the trade. But the glib tongued Jamie is a natural born charmer and manages to 'seduce' his contacts into displaying Pfizer's drug Zoloft along side the more famous Prozac.

It also brings about a cute meeting with Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), who sees right through Jamie’s game and yet strings along with it anyway. Maggie is a free spirited artist, an adventurer and sort of a cynic when it comes to romantic involvements. She also has early-onset Parkinson’s disease, an affliction that casts a complicated shadow over her relationship with Jamie. Her illness makes her wary of growing too close to Jamie and provides a valid explanation for her no-strings, commitment-shy approach to intimacy.

So Jamie and Maggie have fun in the sack, and on the floor, and wherever else the mood strikes. Their intense and almost immediate sexual connection opens the door to emotions that neither is quite prepared for but that neither wants to resist.

Then towards the end of the movie, it turns into a sappy melodrama as Maggie decides to push Jaime away from her. A good move as he just got a huge promotion selling the new wonder drug developed by Pfizer for men with performance issues, yes the blue pill, Viagra. So she doesn't want to stand in his way and be a burden. Sigh!

Jake manages to make Jaime look good despite his ehem immoral stance and competitive spirit. We also know alot about his background, his behavoir and his lofty ambitions. His parents, played by George Segal and Jill Clayburgh are on screen briefly, but they ground Jamie in a social and familial milieu and help us understand who he is.

Maggie on the other hand has a mysterious aura about her. She doesn't share much information about her background or her family. She lives alone with her affliction amidst her artistic flair and dare I say has a ravenous libido that overwhelms her very core. Yet she often seems like there is much more to her personality and that is in essence due to Anne Hathway's acting talent.

So Anne Hathaway and the yummy Jake Gyllenhaal are frequently delightful to watch, and their ease together is palpable. Their great chemistry blends the melodrama, low comedy and romantic entanglements into a giant feel good film.
 

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