Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Ben Kingsley, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz
Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, Jude Law

"Everything has a purpose like machines, they do what they are meant to do. For people it is the same, if you lose your purpose it is like you are broken."
So goes an appropriate line in this enchanting film by Martin Scorsese. A director whose forte are mob related movies filled with foul dialogue, blasts of gun fires and loads of violence. But I believe the purpose of this highly amusing movie is to entertain and enchant us with stunning visuals, a complex yet heartfelt plot with an endearing cast of characters. It certainly succeeded in its aim. And it just happens to be directed by Scorsese whose passion for the art of film making is clearly evident in "Hugo".

Set in the 1930s in Paris, most of the film unfolds in a very busy train station. After he was abandoned by his uncle, the station’s official timekeeper, orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives alone in a dark, secret quarters within the walls of the station. There, amid clocks, gears and pulleys, he putters, sleeps and dreams mostly of fixing a delicate automaton that his deceased father, a clockmaker (Jude Law) brought home, one day.

The automaton is all that remains of a happy past. The automaton, a robotic device shaped in the image of a little boy is missing one vital part - a heart shaped key. Hugo is obsessed with finding the key and his search brings him in contact with Monsieur George Melies (Ben Kingsley) a toy seller in the station with a mystical and mysterious past.

Authentic set design reminiscent of the era transport us the viewers to a vivid universe with visuals that is entirely like a postcard coming to life on the big screen. The train station filled with shops, stalls and vendors of all sorts always bustling with the regular flow of commuters is quite a marvel to behold.

The cast displays their best performances. The young actors are quite natural in their responses, no awkward moments. Asa Butterfield with his page boy cut and his wide eyes remind me of Elijah Wood in his younger days. Ben Kingsley is always good. His portrayal of George Melies is quite effectual, conveying the many emotions of a man escaping from his painful life of regrets.

The supporting cast (Emily Mortimer, Jude Law) also add much flair and give the movie its richness. Sacha Baron Cohen exhibits good comedic timing as the Inspector obsessed with tracking down orphans. The guy can truly act well. He certainly doesn't need to resort to his usual shock and awe as a substitute for humor ("Borat", "Bruno") antics.

Although the film is quite long, there are no dull moments as you are constantly overwhelmed with magical surrealism. Especially when it recalls the early days of film making. The clips and footage of old black and white films was quite a lovely touch. The cinematic trails of the makeshift sets, celebrated the joy of movie making and its rightful place as a true art form. It also championed the importance of film preservation, an advocacy that Scorsese is quite passionate about.

"Hugo" won 5 Oscars in the Best Art Direction, Cinematography, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Visual Effects category. It deserved all of these awards, because every single detail of this delightful movie works perfectly, just like clockwork!

Saturday, February 25, 2012


George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller

The Descendants is the latest offering from renowned director Alexander Payne. It is a bitter sweet and heartfelt family drama set in beautiful Hawaii with an exceptional soundtrack consisting almost entirely of local tunes used in apt and expressive ways.

Matthew King (George Clooney) is an attorney and a land baron. His family’s presence on the islands dates back to 1860 and a decision is due to be made within days about selling 25,000 acres of stunning waterfront property in Kuau’i, said to be the largest remaining such undeveloped parcel.

Yet he isn't exactly wallowing in wealth because he aptly says
"I don't want my daughters growing up entitled and spoiled. And I agree with my father - you give your children enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing."

He is also faced with raising his two daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) aged 17 and 10, respectively by his lonesome self. His wife Elizabeth who is comatose after a freak boating accident isn't expected to survive.

As if that isn't enough, he finds out that his wife was having an affair and planning to divorce him. He admits he has always be the understudy, the back up parent so understandably his parenting skills aren't up to par.

Payne's adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ 2007 novel unfolds over about a week’s time, during which many fundamentals about the life of Matthew King and his family are closely examined. A wry, intelligent look at the contradictions and complexities of human emotions.

The ensemble cast is exemplary, down to the smallest role. Clooney is impressive and quite convincing as a guy battling with all the intimate issues he has spent half his life steering well clear of, and finding himself near breaking point.

As Alexandra, Shailene Woodley really shines. It is fascinating to watch her progress from a bratty, resentful teenager to a point where she soon matures and becomes a supportive parent to her bewildered dad.

Payne has always impressed with his talent for infusing his flawed ordinary people characters with mixing moods and subtle emotions with such unexpected warmth and comedy. His films like "Sideways" and "About Schmidt" are clear examples of this genre.

And "The Descendants" doesn't disappoint in that aspect. A well done and quite soulful film that is guaranteed to move you through a wide realm of emotions!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

2012 New Zealand Film Festival

A cinematic and cultural feast showcasing the best full-length and short films from New Zealand will run from February 23 to 28 at the Shang Cineplex in Shangri-La Plaza Mall.

The lineup includes full length films, a documentary as well as a program of short films.

The short films are: "Coffee and Allah", a story of a young Muslim woman who overcomes relocation by connecting with people through her faith, love for coffee, and badminton. "Noise Control", an animated feature about a rooster who pays the price for keeping his neighbors awake. "Tama Tu" which shows soldiers trying to distract themselves from the reminders of war surrounding them. "Take 3" features three Asian actresses who find themselves playing uncomfortable and stereotypical Asian roles.

Admission is free.

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

Saturday, February 18, 2012


Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick
Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston

"It takes a pair to beat the Odds"

Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a radio producer is only 27 years old when he is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. But instead of going crazy by embarking on things on his bucket list (in fact, I believe he doesn't even have one), he remains calm and collected throughout his ordeal. But naturally he is quite distraught.

Adam who is pretty much a loner does have a support group albeit they are a select few. His irresponsibly wacky but very loyal friend named Kyle is played by comedian Seth Rogen. Kyle is the exact opposite of Adam that you can't help but wonder how they became friends in the first place.

His indifferent girlfriend Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard) bails out on him but in all fairness to her, Adam did give her a chance to back out but she out of pity stayed on until it was evident enough, she couldn't handle it.

His father who is battling Alzheimer's often doesn't know who he is. While his mother (the superb Anjelica Huston) wants to take care of him but Adam (like most guys) fends her off. But it is more out of concern since she has enough on her plate dealing with a husband facing dementia.

In the midst of his battle with the big C, he finds romance in the most unexpected places with his hospital assigned newly minted therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick). Her inexperience in her chosen field is quite endearing as it brings about a certain gentleness without crossing the fine line of propriety that exists between a doctor and a patient.

Gordon-Levitt is perfect for the role as he turns depression and despair into comedy of the edgiest kind, while making his character all the more sympathetic for his occasional outbursts of anger and aggression.

There are several points in the movie when you expect the story to turn into a sappy tearjerker but fortunately "50/50" pulls back, and sides with unvarnished truth.

This gem of a movie works entirely due to the way it handles death. As seen through the sparkling eyes of Adam, death is not to be feared but neither is it something to brush off, flippantly.

A movie handled with this kind of care is a rare gift as it refuses to hide from pain or bow to it, it will certainly get to you and pull at your heartstrings.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds
Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington, Marton Csokas
Jesper Christensen

"Every Secret comes with a Price"

I've always had an affinity with spy thrillers more so than with romantic comedies/chick flicks. But I do indulge in a few predictable rom-com, every now and then. The intriguing plot of "The Debt" truly piqued my interest. And I'm glad to say, I wasn't disappointed.

The story unfolds in 1997, at a launch party for journalist Sarah Gold’s book about the exploits of a trio of Israeli Mossad agents. In 1966, they infiltrated East Berlin to abduct a certain Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen), a gynecologist. But during World War II, he was notoriously known as the "Surgeon of Birkenau", a doctor who experimented on Jewish children in the concentration camps. Two of the Mossad agents were Rachel Singer and Stephan Gold, the author's parents. The esteemed pair (now divorced) are widely acclaimed in Israel for their "successful" mission in the 60s.

Flitting between present Israel and East Berlin in the 60s, the narrative is told through flashbacks with younger actors portraying the 3 Mossad agents. We witness what truly unfolded during their dangerous mission through well coordinated action filled scenes with tension brewing at every turn. As well as the consequent toll it took on their lives when the secret they swore to uphold threatens to ruin not only their reputation but also shake the very core of the spy agency they belong(ed) to.

This remake of the 2007 Israeli film of the same title is directed by British director John Madden with an excellent cast of talented actors who draw out the calculated nuances of their characters with much precision.

Jessica Chastain turns in a searing performance as young Rachel, infusing her with aching vulnerability. Csokas brings a visceral life to Stephan's burning ambition, while Worthington embodies the tightly wound repression that fuels David.

Special mention goes to the chilling performance by Jesper Christensen as Vogel. What makes him so fearsome is the way he tries to "seduce" the young Mossad agents — for them to recognize him as being as much a human as they are, to see the very flaws they despise in him reflected in themselves. He was really very creepy.

Unfortunately, Helen Mirren, Tom Wilkinson and Ciaran Hinds, as the older agents came across as being too British, in my opinion. But they still acted quite well, no doubt about that!

In conclusion, I'd say a series of tightly coiled and excellently choreographed action sequences provided much depth to this highly suspenseful espionage thriller with a commendable cast. It's worth watching.

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