Monday, October 24, 2011

THREE TIMES

Taiwan Film Festival
Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex




This film is a trilogy about love. 3 love stories, set in 3 different periods with a pair of lead actors playing the couple in each era. Respectively set in 1911, 1966 and 2005, the stories not only capture the essence of their time, but also presents three varieties of love: unfulfilled, mercenary, meaningless. It is historically and humanly insightful. All photographed with such visual beauty amidst poignant subtlety and set to an appropriately haunting musical score.

"A Time for Love" is set in 1966, Chen, a young soldier falls for May, a pool hall hostess. An era where American pop culture invades Taiwan so the romance develops with standards such as the Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" and Aphrodite Child's "Rain and Tears." The guy is to be deployed overseas to help the noble cause of freedom at the expense of his budding romance. But they keep the romance going through the exchange of heartwarming letters which don't openly declare love but merely hints at it with much caution.

In "A Time for Freedom", the story unfolds in 1911 where Ah Mei, a courtesan pines for a married diplomat named Chang who is her client. He is very filled with his own importance and has plans to reform the world. She begins to fall in love with him. He loves her, too albeit not at the same level. His love for his country weighs much more than his feelings for the courtesan. The movie is shot like a silent film where the dialogue is conveyed by title cards. The action is slow, while elaborate music plays. When the courtesan sings a traditional song, it's like a cry of pain; love, here, is a prison.

The 3rd story, "A Time for Youth" takes place in 2005 in modern Taipei. Jing is a troubled pop singer while Zhen is a photographer. She neglects her woman lover while falling in love with the photographer. It unfolds in urban jungle Taipei with its gray concrete and blue light with many night shots. They are caught up in living noisy and busy lives that keep them at a disconnect despite all the modern conveniences of being connected with the use of the cell phone and Internet. It shows a world where our lovers can unite happily, but regrettably they find themselves unable to recognize love, much less hunger for it. Their selfish lives are disconnected and pretty much defined by modern technology.

I enjoyed the first episode, best. The one set in 1966 was the kind of romantic story that overwhelms because of its simplicity, emotional resonance and subtlety. It is the purest, most unashamedly romantic of the trilogy. I was mostly struck by the cinematography and framing of the shots along with the use of great songs to convey emotions. In one of his letters, the young soldier says to his love interest, the pool hall hostess, May: "Stay beautiful." Wow!

The lives in "Three Times" are not tragedies, unless the tragedy is that they never become the lives they could have been. The director Hou Hsiao-hsien shows us people who could make each other happy and be happy themselves, and he also watches them miss their chance. But it isn't sadness. It's simply realism in its purest form.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

ZOOM HUNTING

Taiwan Film Festival
Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex




Ru Yi and Ru Xing are sisters living together in a quite modern flat. Ru Yi works as a fashion photographer while Ru Xing is an author who is rushing to finish her novel on time. One day, Ru Yi captures an intimate scene on film. She soon discovers that the couple in her picture are having an illicit affair. She shares this with her sister who then uses this scenario for her novel.

But things take on a slightly sinister twist as the sisters get more than they bargained for from their spying 'techniques'. Most of the film is seen from Ru Yi's perspective as she investigates the drama through the lens of her camera.

The film banks on maintaining an air of suspense and drama but the plot doesn't have much depth. The characters are mostly one-dimensional. The two main protagonists are portrayed by actresses who have inferior acting skills with facial expressions which remain stagnant throughout the entire film. There are quite a few predictable twists along the way and it is manifested through the overlapping of flashback scenes with the unfolding scenes.

The story stays steadily on its bland course, leading up to a teasing ending that invites more than one interpretation. "Zoom Hunting" is a standard rather insignificant fare that doesn’t really find its footing, unfortunately. It tried its best to explore voyeurism from an astute angle but it fails quite miserably.

Friday, October 21, 2011

LARRY CROWNE

Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts
George Takei, Pam Grier, Cedric the Entertainer





Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks) loses his job at a big retail store. Despite being a good employee, he is fired simply because he has no college education. After mopping about his unfortunate situation, he decides to pursue a college education.

In the process, he meets a merry assortment of people. The kind of people Larry wouldn't normally associate with, let alone be friends with. He also finds romance with his speech professor played by the effervescent Julia Roberts. Yes I basically revealed the entire plot, well it was rather predictable from the get go, right?

The supporting characters are portrayed by a generally likable cast. This includes George Takei from Star Trek as an economics professor, Pam Grier and stand up comedian Cedric the Entertainer. But sadly, they’re all mono-dimensional, one-note, sitcom silhouettes, given little to do except provide an ethnically mixed comedic background.

Naturally, the success of the film falls on the shoulders of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. They have good chemistry together playing pretty bland but nonetheless endearing characters. But the main flaw in the story is that Larry Crowne is not particularly interesting — a nice guy, but not going to set the world on fire.

To conclude, even Hanks and Roberts, two of Hollywood’s most likeable superstars who are as likeable as ever here, can't quite sell this predictable rom-com. The story lacked depth with too many side plots that simply didn't add up.

Rather, it simply wants to be a nice little romantic comedy with a positive vibe. In that aspect, it is. Sometimes, that's enough. While other times, you'd expect more from two high caliber stars!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

TAIWAN FILM FESTIVAL 2011



The Taiwan Film Festival is from October 21 to 26 at the Shang Cineplex Cinema 4 in Shangri-La Plaza. This year's lineup includes acclaimed full-length features, shorts, and documentaries.

Admission is free.

Seats are on a first-come, first served basis.

Screening Schedule:
Oct 21 (Fri)
2pm No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti
5pm Zoom Hunting
8pm Gangster Rock

Oct 22 (Sat)
2pm The Magical Washing Machine, Respire, Small Station
5pm Gangster Rock
8pm Three Times

Oct 23 (Sun)
2pm Zoom Hunting
5pm Pinoy Sunday
8pm No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti

Oct 24 (Mon)
2pm Three Times
5pm Jump! Boys
8pm Pinoy Sunday

Oct 25 (Tue)
2pm Gangster Rock
5pm No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti
8pm The Magical Washing Machine, Respire, Small Station

Oct 26 (Wed)
2pm Jump! Boys
5pm The Magical Washing Machine, Respire, Small Station
8pm Zoom Hunting

Sunday, October 16, 2011

TODAS LAS CANCIONES HABLAN DE MI
(EVERY SONG IS ABOUT ME)

10th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3




This romantic drama presents the life of Ramiro Lastra who works in a second hand bookstore. He has just ended his 6 year relationship with Andrea, an architecture student. It focuses on his feeble attempt to get over the break up. He hangs out with his friends. He even starts dating someone new on an on and off basis. He also sleeps around with other women but ever so often he likes to wallow in melancholic self pity and reminisce about this past life with Andrea.

The film shuttles between past (his life with Andrea) and present smoothly but with little purpose. And dramatic tension remains low and flat. It is mostly dialogue driven with voice overs and narratives from the central characters talking straight into the camera.

It would cater mainly to the art house crowd who would appreciate the plot's concern with literature. Ramiro is a frustrated intellectual who dabbles in writing poetry to express his thoughts. Its chaptered structure as well as artsy closeups of heavyweight book covers also contributes to its art house feel.

Most of the songs alluded to in the title are generally by Spanish artists. They range from jazz to current Euro techno pop songs and they are played out throughout the film whenever Ramiro is in a nostalgic mood.

The setting and plot line succeeds in creating a retro effect. But frankly nothing much goes on in the film and it pretty much echoes the direction-less nature of its main character, Ramiro. A drifter who just wanders aimless, without any sense of purpose. So be warned!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

EN LA CIUDAD SIN LIMITES
(THE CITY OF NO LIMITS)

10th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3



A shroud of mysterious secrets and hidden lies permeates throughout this intriguing family drama set in the capital of France. Víctor who is based in Argentina arrives in Paris to visit his ailing father, Max. It turns into a family reunion as his mother and his older siblings along with their respective families take turns taking care of Max at the hospital.

But when Max issues his son with a deathbed request, Víctor is quickly drawn into an investigation of his father's past. Hesitantly playing detective, he gradually unravels his family's hidden histories.

Despite the slow pacing of the film, this poignant thriller succeeds in keeping us hanging on by the edge of our seats. The interspersed subplots raise the emotional stakes. While the quest to unravel the truth behind Max's ramblings increases with each crescendo of the foreboding and often quite creepy music score.

Credible performances make the subplots interesting, but there are also scenes which seem to have no point. Footage which should have been edited to make the plot more coherent. The cinematography is vividly visualized as Parisian scenes brighten the otherwise dark and bleak story line of a dying man's last and very remorseful wishes to make amends with his haunted past.

But still the movie makes good points on how the past influences the present, how present desires can remold past actions and how betrayal breeds betrayal. You'll walk away from this movie having once again learned the lesson that it's always better to tell the truth because it'll come out eventually anyway. And sometimes when it is revealed it might be too late to make amends!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

GORDOS
(FAT PEOPLE)

10th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3



The premise of this film would certainly ring a bell with people who have had to struggle with weight issues. We all deal with this problem in our daily life so this in-depth thought provoking film will appeal to all genre.

Judging by the title alone, you would think it is a comedy that mocks fat people. Fortunately, it resists the easy joke or gross-out gag mostly portrayed about people who have a difficult time losing weight. In fact, "Gordos" embraces them, and turns what could have been a simple comedy drama - why do people end up overweight? What might they do about it? - into something far deeper and more affecting in the process.

The plot revolves around a therapy session where overweight people talk about the various reasons behind their obesity. It's a laudably adult production, earthy, smutty and raw yet with witty, intelligent and deeply moving scenarios.

The script shuttles rapidly among the various stories. An ensemble cast do their best to personify the numerous characters. All of them portrayed with much depth and dimension. In fact, I read that the director took a long time to complete the film because he really wanted his cast to gain weight as the story progressed. Quite effectively, it worked to give the story much authenticity.

We get a mix of satire (pointing out the similarities between religion and food consumption); absurd comedy and even teen drama where an overweight teenager is constantly bullied about her weight. Much emphasis is put on our culture's obsession with appearance with clever humor added in through dialogue that is highly tinged with loads of sarcasm.

It's a comedy about fat people that neither mocks them for cheap laughs nor puts them on a pedestal. Obesity's an integral part of the plot but the narrative also examines who the characters would be without it. While it's not a film for everyone, and in some instances it was a bit dragging, it had a good point. By examining obesity from several different angles, ages and social settings, it suggests, perhaps unsurprisingly, that it isn't really the weight that is the issue!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

TAMBIEN LA LLUVIA
(EVEN THE RAIN)

10th Spanish Film Festival
Cinema 1, Greenbelt 3




"Even the Rain" focuses on a film crew making a revisionist movie about the conquest of Latin America by Christopher Columbus. They are in Cochabamba, Bolivia for the location shoot when the 2000 Water Crisis revolts happen. The natives are fighting against a multinational corporation that threatens to cut off their water supply. Eventually it boils down to which is more important, the film they are shooting or the real world events that is threatening not only the film production but the existence of the natives.

The film drifts back and forth between the on camera reenactments of Columbus' forays and the Bolivian government's move to wrest water rights from its citizens and to stifle rebellion. But by grounding the story in the personal - through the main character's conflicted agendas, sympathizing with the protesters and yet wanting desperately to get their movie made, this provocative film strikes a deep and resonant chord.

The heart of the film is an Indian native named Daniel who is chosen among the many extras to play a chieftain who resisted the Europeans and was executed as a result.
It turns out that Daniel is an activist and he has become a leader in the numerous protests against the government’s policy of privatizing the water supply. A move which will raise the cost of living of the already-impoverished locals.

His participation in the demonstrations endangers the filmmakers’ ability to complete their project before anarchy breaks out. They are also torn between their own professional interests and larger considerations of right and wrong.

The juxtaposition of the exploitation of indigenous peoples half a millennium ago and that going on in the same areas today, from equally greedy motives, is well projected throughout the entire film. The directorial approach brings a gritty mood to the proceedings, and the sense of authenticity is enhanced by the use of actual footage of the street demonstrations.

The film tends to be a bit dragging but it is well-acted and has a valid social relevance theme. That social imperialism continues to thrive in the world. And that making movies pales in comparison and importance when people are facing a crisis of mega proportions - the loss of world’s most precious resource - Water - from rivers and wells and eventually even the rain.
 

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