Friday, June 29, 2012

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO



"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is part of the "Millennium trilogy" of crime novels written by Swedish journalist/writer Steig Larsson who died in 2004. It was adapted into 2 films. The Swedish movie was released in 2009 while Hollywood released its remake last year.

I watched both films, first the Hollywood version followed immediately by the original. I was tuned to a very dark thriller that focused on murders, corporate greed, corruption and brutal acts of bestiality for almost 5 hours. Phew.

So this review will be a comparison of the two films with basically the same main characters in the persons of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander a researcher who has had a difficult life. Together they must solve the mystery behind the disappearance of Harriet Vanger, 40 years ago. She is the niece of Henrik Vanger, a wealthy industrialist who has been haunted by her disappearance from their huge estate in Hedestad, a mountainous town in northern Sweden.

The Hollywood version had a very bleak cinematography with a heavily snowed environment providing the backdrop and it seems like most of the angles were shot during the night time. While in the Swedish film, the cinematography was a bit brighter but not sunshiny bright. There were still a lot of shots with snow in it but no dark overtones.

David Fincher presented the film with flashbacks using much younger actors to portray the Vanger family in the 1960s. He chose to add more footage on the part where Lisbeth goes on her clandestine mission to expose Wennerstrom's shady deals. The film was well edited with an edgy soundtrack filled with intensely loud music to highlight dramatic moments. It had a more gripping tone but the last 30 minutes felt like it had to quicken the pace to wrap up all the loose ends.

The original plot used black and white scenes for its flashbacks. I also gathered additional details about the characters which weren’t mentioned in the Hollywood version. The main film was focused more on the duo gathering more information about the gruesome murders which had a vital link to the disappearance of Harriet Vanger. The slow pace of the film made some scenes a bit dragging and the abrupt editing didn’t help either.

Both Daniel Craig and Michael Nyqvist were believable as Blomkvist, the disgraced and disgruntled journalist who is vindicated in the end. It was pretty obvious that Daniel Craig was not comfortable taping in the below zero degrees temperatures. There were times I swear I could see him shivering from the cold. But in my opinion, Daniel Craig’s Blomkvist had more depth and his characterization was more current.

Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth looked a lot older than 24. Her Lisbeth was more ‘charming’ even though she has a dark personality lurking behind the fa├žade. She was less menacing but nevertheless quite tough and street smart. Rooney Mara as Lisbeth was a brooding, mysterious hacker who lacked social skills but tough as nails when the situation called for it. Her piercing and icy glance can cut through paper but once she warmed up to a person she can be quite ‘nice’ for lack of a better word.

To conclude, I believe the Hollywood remake had a more gripping way of presenting the dark plot. It was more edgy and current. But the original version wasn’t bad either as it provided more behind the scenes details about the plot and the characters. I admit I’ve never read the novels but watching both films (one after the one= 5 long hours) was quite a thrill!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh
Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Dame Judi Dench




It is 1956 and Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is determined to be part of the movie industry. Due to his determination (not to mention his parents were friends of the Oliviers), he manages to get an internship at the film production company of Sir Laurence Olivier. He starts off a gofer until Olivier is impressed with his enterprising ability so he is hired as third assistant director on a film. A movie that Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) will direct and star in along with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) as his leading lady.

The film is adapted from a book by Colin Clark who wrote a diary about the making of "The Prince and the Showgirl". He narrates the story through a voice over. We bear witness to the insurmountable problems that Olivier faced during the production of the film. Such as the constant delays due to the tantrums thrown by the American vixen. She is portrayed as an insecure star who needed to be reassured by her acting coach to boost her confidence. She is also mostly heavily drugged to function normally. Yet despite her antics, the entire cast is mesmerized by her beauty and her charms.

The cast is peppered with good British actors who gave depth and dimension to the real life characters they portrayed. Notably, Kenneth Branagh captured the mannerisms of Sir Laurence Olivier, brilliantly. Although I do get the impression from the films I've seen that the real Olivier was much taller. The same goes for Michelle Williams who facially did resemble the American icon but she somehow lacked the oozing sexuality that Marilyn Monroe was famous for. Yet I still admire Williams ability to capture the various insecurities that seem to haunt the starlet.

The story leads us to believe that Marilyn grew quite fond of Colin Clark. He was the one she would seek out on the set to calm her nerves. Now this is certainly hard to believe. How can a glamorous star like Monroe prefer to spend her time with a production crew? But since this film is based on Clark's semi-autobiography, the whole premise is taken from his perspective. Although his narration about the problems behind the set has been verified as authentic, it is the 'week with Marilyn' that remains doubtful.

Despite the talents of the excellent ensemble cast, the plausibility or impossibility factor reigns in. This doesn't make it a 'bad' movie. It was interesting in an intriguing manner so that should count for something.

Friday, June 15, 2012

TOUT CE QUI BRILLE
(ALL THAT GLITTERS)

Citi-Rustan's French Film Festival
Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex




Best friends Lila and Ely who hail from the working class suburb Puteaux have always been fascinated by the vibrant night life in Paris. The French capital is merely 10 minutes away. They believe it will lead them from their humdrum lives as shopping mall employees to a glamorous world where all their dreams can come true.

As the two convince themselves they belong on the right side of the tracks, their friendship with each other and their relationship with their families grow increasingly strained. They soon are blinded by the trappings of the elitist realm of Paris upper classes. Sadly, they learn the hard way that all that glitters doesn't necessarily mean their lives are going to change for the better.

This film is a charmingly warm portrait of two young ladies whose friendship knows no bounds. It is packed with wit and youthful energy. It is also coupled with a reasonable emotional payoff to create dramatic moments. All of it leading to a touching yet predictable ending.

The heart of the film lies in the chemistry between the two main characters. They are your standard BFFs who do everything together. And while Ely and Lila suffer in their efforts to climb to the top of the social hierarchy, they maintain their own tongue-in-cheek sincerity throughout, and lead lives that are realistically grounded in both material and materialistic needs.

When things do finally blow up between Lily and Ely, you feel for their friendship as you watch each of them struggle without the presence of their best friend. But eventually, you do know that it would have a happy ending given that it has been well established during the entire film that they share a deep bond.

This is good film for teenage girls with touches of fashion and music that seem to be standard fare in modern chick flicks. You get the added benefit of seeing scenic Parisian locales, but the storyline is quite predictable!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

L'ARTISTE
(THE ARTIST)

Citi-Rustans French Film Festival
Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex




*** Repost: The winner for Best Motion Picture at the 2012 Oscars is among the movies featured for this year's French Film Festival. ***


It is 1927 and George Valentin is at the peak of his career. The silent movie star is also aware that his fame and fortune is at stake with the advent of the talkies. Yet he vehemently refuses to change with the times mostly due to his massive ego and his pride.

One of the extras in his film is a young aspiring actress named Peppy Miller. A wide eyed gal filled with ambitions to succeed in the movie industry. She does achieve stardom through a little prodding from Valentin and also by her own merit.

As Valentin's star begins its decline, he has only his obedient Jack Russell terrier and his faithful chauffeur Clifton for company. He is forced to sell off his possessions after a film he produced and starred in bombs at the box office. Miller meanwhile is the new It Girl, with a bright future ahead. She wants to help him, but again, his pride stands in the way.

In this cinematic day of loud action sequences, computer generated images and stunning cinematography, this black and white movie without any spoken dialogue but filled with up tempo music reminiscent of silent movies is quite refreshing to watch.

The delight mostly stems from the fine acting skills of the main characters who provided broad but heartfelt performances that mirror the era. They had good chemistry together and individually. Their on and off screen projections were palpable and quite credible. You'd really think they were silent movie stars!

"The Artist" is a fitting tribute to a bygone era of classic Hollywood films which were able to charm its audience by weaving a compelling storyline with true to life characters that truly uplifted cinema and film making to an art form.

I just found it a bit odd that it took French actors and a French film production crew to come up with a film about the silent movies era of Hollywood. Nonetheless, their brilliantly innovative concept (filming sans dialogue) worked. It truly deserves all the 'best picture' accolades it received from most if not all of the award giving bodies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

L'ARNACOEUR
(THE HEARTBREAKER)

Citi-Rustan's French Film Festival
Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex




*** I'm reposting my review of this rom-com. It is included in the line-up of the ongoing French Film Festival at the Shangri-la mall cineplex ***


This French romantic comedy set in exotic locales (Morocco, Monte Carlo) started off on a good note then slowly self destructs. An unusual plot with eccentric characters, it thrives on false pretenses and cheesy romantic moments.

Alex Lippi is a professional 'heartbreaker'. He is in the business of breaking up relationships. He has only 2 main rules: he doesn't bed the women and he only breaks up unhappy relationships. This whole enterprise triumphs with the joint efforts of his sister Melanie and her husband Marc who take care of all the logistics involved in making sure Alex is successful. He achieves this by using his irresistible charms to make the female half of a couple realize that her beloved is not the one for her.

In his next job, he is given only 10 days to prevent the imminent wedding of a wealthy wine connoisseur Juliette to an English philanthropist. Although they are head over heels in love with each other, her father a tycoon thinks otherwise and therefore hires Alex to intervene.

The plot then weaves into a complex and profoundly silly slapstick subplots with a slew of British and American pop culture adding to the rigmarole. Its repeated allusions to the British group Wham! and the Patrick Swayze movie "Dirty Dancing" were so corny. A banal romantic farce set to an awfully saccharine soundtrack, it's quite predictable despite the numerous twists they interjected to muddle the plot.

Amazingly, Romain Duris is quite a big star in France even though his looks are quite average. But it seems he relies heavily on his charming way of delivering dialogue. Vanessa Paradis is more popularly known as a singer/model and the life partner of Johnny Depp. It is a pity that his versatility as an actor doesn't rub off on her.

The saving grace would be the alluring locales and the fashionable wardrobe of the characters. I think only the French can come up with such an absurd story and disguise it as a romantic comedy. Yet I read that Hollywood is interested and a remake is in the works. Let's just hope the American version will be an improvement.

Monday, June 11, 2012

L'ART D'AIMER
(THE ART OF LOVE)

Citi-Rustan's French Film Festival
Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex




"The Art of Love" is a romantic comedy about what else but "L-0-V-E". It is presented through a series of vignettes that focus on relationships where love reigns supreme. It is like a novel that is composed of different short stories all compiled together.

Most of the episodes are introduced with titles, some clever and literary while others seem irrelevant. The stories in the movie are about persons deflecting love, or caught in situations where love seems to complicate matters instead of complementing the relationship.

The different stories aren't uniformly equal. One narrative begins and ends with no development. While another is developed like a multiple part of a singular story. Still others have episodes interspersed throughout the film. The unifying factor is the voice-over narration in a strong voice which basically charms us with its funny and witty observations.

The ensemble cast is a group of talented French actors and actresses who all give credible performances. I'm quite familiar with a few of them from other films I've seen. In "The Art of Love" though their roles are quite light and don't really demand much heavy brow acting.

There is something to be said about the way that the French perceive love in its many forms. For instance, there is a character who offers to have her boyfriend sleep with her best friend. That way, the best friend snaps out of her one year sex abstinence. It is something I'd dare say that could only be possible in a European setting as opposed to the conservative nature of Asians. But it's deliciously French, on one level. And it made this rom-com quite a delight to watch!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

L'HEURE D'ETE
(SUMMER HOURS)

Citi-Rustan's French Film Festival
Cinema 1, Shang Cineplex



*** I am reposting this review from 2 years ago. This film is featured in the Olivier Assayas 7 films retrospect for this year's French Film Festival ***


We are introduced to the characters through a family gathering. Helene, the matriarch is celebrating her 75th birthday and her 3 adult children together with their families have come for the special occasion. The setting is in an ancient house in the countryside. A place that holds numerous antiques, paintings and is fraught with memories. Helene then presents to her eldest son Frederic a well organized list on how to dispose the valuable belongings once she passes on from this world.

Eventually several months later, she dies and the daunting task falls on the shoulders of Frederic who is the only sibling living in Paris. His brother is an expat in Shanghai and busy with forging his career as well as taking care of his family. While the only daughter lives in New York and is occupied with her incoming wedding.

The film focuses on a relevant topic. The one we all have to face eventually in our lives - the tedious and sometimes painful process of inheritance. So we are presented with scenes of curators and appraisers taking stock of the vast antique collection. But it also shows us the different reactions of the siblings on the disposal of their ancestral house. As they sort through the numerous items, they reminisce about their relevance vis a vis their childhood.

It also has some touching and moving moments. A pivotal scene is when Frederic is suddenly overwhelmed with sadness and pulls his car over to a curb and just cries his heart out. Perhaps he didn't want this siblings and his family to see him as weak. I get the impression that is the only time he truly cried over the death of his mother and the passing of his childhood memories. How sad.

Another reflective sequence is a scene at the Museum D'Orsay where Frederic and his wife Lisa look at the objects they've donated which are now prominently displayed. An ironic contrast as it serves as a significant contribution to history and cultural artifacts yet at the same time there is a semblance that the objects are caged in a cold space and devoid of any human context in their family's life.

This family oriented film make us contemplate on the futility of hanging onto sentimental objects from our past which eventually end up as museum pieces or worse merely gathering dust in storage boxes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

CITI-RUSTAN'S FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL



The 17th edition of the French Film Festival, presented by the Embassy of France to the Philippines and the Alliance Fran├žaise de Manille, as part of the French cultural program, Francophil starts its run from June 8 to June 17, 2012 at the Shangri-la Mall Cineplex.

The festival opens with no less than the 2012 Academy award-winning movie "The Artist", a black-and-white silent film that follows the life of George Valentin - a Hollywood silent film star.

The UP Film Institute and the Cultural Center of the Philippines will provide an opportunity for Olivier Assayas, one of France’s most respected directors, to share his passion for cinema by providing a venue for him to interact with Filipino film directors and students upon his arrival in Manila.

Assayas will hold a Master Class at the UP Film Institute on June 7, Thursday at 2PM, where the director is expected to share his passion for cinema by providing a venue where he can interact with Filipino film directors and students here.

Seventeen of France’s most-loved film feats also await cinephiles this year, which includes a seven-film retrospect on director-extraordinaire Olivier Assayas, one of the first European directors to pay attention to Asian films; and an eight-film treat from L’Institut Francais.







The films are free of charge on a first come, first served basis.
For more information, please call 633-7851 loc. 113.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

SAFE HOUSE

Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds
Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard


"No one is Safe"




Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) is a young CIA agent in charge of a safe house in Cape Town, South Africa. His boring routine consists of checking into the highly secured facility and answering phone calls. Until, he gets word that a former rogue CIA agent named Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) will be brought to the safe house for 'questioning'.

But things go terribly wrong as a bunch of heavily armed men invade the supposedly secure place to get hold of Tobin Frost. It seems that Frost is in possession of a list that contains corrupt agents. Left with no options, Matt helps the fugitive escape until he can be relocated to another secret location.

There is where this action filled spy thriller takes off with a loud blast. Shot in South Africa, the beautiful landscapes from the densely populated ghettos to the very urban metropolis provided an excellent backdrop to the fast paced flow of the plot.

Most of the action stems from the car chases, the explosions from combat scenes as bullets and gun fires are exchanged between the good guys and the villains. Well that is if you can figure out who the *real* bad guys are given that some of the scenes were shot in dark places with a hand held camera that was so shaky, I had to close my eyes, several times.

The inventive plot pulsates from the high level cover up, the betrayal amongst agents to a damaging list that threatens intelligence agencies in every corners of the world. The supporting cast is top notch with believable performances from Vera Farmiga, Brendan Gleeson and Sam Shepard.

Kudos goes to the two main actors who make a good team from every angle. Washington brings the intensity and experience. He shows us once again how impressive he can be by playing lead as well as protagonist roles. And as Tobin Frost he was vicious, ruthless yet quite smart without being overbearing.

While Ryan Reynolds brings youth and inexperience playing a rookie agent with a solid backbone. He, too is equally equipped to play a wide variety of roles without breaking into sweat. He can be a romantic lead. He can also do the action hero. He can make us laugh with his comedic roles. Quite impressive for someone very young!
 

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