Tuesday, August 28, 2012

MAN ON A LEDGE

Sam Worthington, Elizabeth Banks, Anthony Mackie
Ed Harris, Jaime Bell, Edward Burns


"You can only push an innocent man so far."



In the opening scenes we see Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) check into a midtown Manhattan hotel then orders room service. After his meal, he climbs out the window and onto the ledge some 25 stories up. Thus the title "Man on a Ledge".


Through flashbacks, we establish that Nick was a former NYPD detective who is serving time for stealing a very valuable diamond belonging to a wealthy real estate developer named David Englander (Ed Harris). So Cassidy escapes and is now standing precariously on a ledge in the hotel which is owned by Englander. The remaining minutes focuses on the reason why Cassidy is on the ledge along with some side plots that occur simultaneously.


The plot is very flimsy. The motives behind his threat to jump off a tall building isn't given much depth. His so called protest against corporate corruption and corrupt cops could have been played out more effectively with more details on just how Englander is a despicable tycoon. His very public outcry high up on the ledge as a diversionary tactic while side plot unfolds is pretty lame, too. The movie has been boxed into a very tight corner from which there appears to be no escape but to jump off the ledge. In other words, escape by quitting the film midway. Not caring if Cassidy gets his requests or if he does get off the darn ledge, after all.


The big supporting cast all getting a fair amount of screen time turn in good performances. Ed Burns (one of my fave actors) is the only reason I didn't press the stop button. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get enough to do as cop Jack Dougherty, (the first responder to the scene) in order to steal the entire movie.


"Man on a Ledge" is not necessarily a bad film but neither is it a good one. It is a pretty average movie that doesn't take too much brain cells to process.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

SUPER 8

Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler


"It arrives"

HBO





Sunday evening, "Harriet" threw a tantrum so I found myself pressing the TV remote control for any suitable movie to watch. By the way, for the uninitiated, "Harriet" refers to my today.it.is.working.tomorrow.it.doesn't.work desktop PC.

Perfect timing, as the film written and directed by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias) just commenced on HBO. It is set in 1979 and focuses on 4 young boys whose friendship is based on their common interest - to shoot movies. They are in the process of shooting their zombie romance using a Super 8 camera. One night while filming on location, they witness a horrible train crash. A tragedy that is the catalyst for some sci-fi/military project that goes terribly wrong. Soon enough the little town in Ohio serves as a battleground between the military and some monster/alien that looks like a hideously menacing giant spider.

This film is J.J. Abrams's fitting tribute to the old Steven Spielberg (co-producer of Super 8) movies. Most of Spielberg's previous films were usually set in some small Midwest American town that undergoes a major upheaval as it experiences some inexplicable event that would alter their lives, forever. So "Super 8" is a sort of "Stand by Me" (although this was never directed by Spielberg) meets "E.T" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" popcorn entertainment.

But amidst the loud explosive scenes of train crashes and military gun fires is a story about friendship as well as a budding love story that develops between the 2 main characters in the film. The cast of young actors are mostly credible although there were certain scenes where they were annoying and for lack of a better word, childish.

My only issue is the too much sci fi and the military is hiding something from the people premise. It feeds into the conspiracy theory aspect of many sarcastic folks out there. Good thing I was able to briefly change the channel every time the big bad nasty monster/alien got any screen time. That's because I'm not a fan of sci-fi themed films. But on the other hand, I'd admit it would be like watching a poorer rehash version of "Stand by Me", if it weren't for the sci-fi element.

"Super 8" is an old-fashioned, feel good movie spectacle that doesn't rely on big stars to tell its narrative. It is simply a good story with humor, enough thrills and enveloped with an sense of wonder that brings us back to our childhood. An era with no digital gadgets to complicate our lives which sadly is now fueled by our need to be always connected to the Internet.

Monday, August 20, 2012

6th INTERNATIONAL SILENT FILM FESTIVAL


In this year’s edition of the festival, the Embassy of Italy, the Embassy of the United States of America, the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), the Goethe-Institut, the Instituto Cervantes and the Japan Foundation Manila will present silent films from their respective countries which will be accompanied live by young Filipino bands.


It will take place from the 24 to 27 August 2012 at the Shang Cineplex, Shangri-La Plaza Mall. Admission is free on a first come, first served basis.


Click here for more information about the featured films and the schedule.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

WAR HORSE

Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson


"Separated by war. Tested by battle. Bound by friendship"


The main draw of this very long film about a horse is its esteemed director Steven Spielberg. Plus a haunting musical score by *the* John Williams and amazingly breathtaking cinematography, add them all and you get a masterfully crafted World War I tale about perseverance and triumphs that will tug at your heartstrings.


The story follows a thoroughbred through various owners and situations amidst the backdrop of the first World War. On a whim, a farmer buys a young colt instead of a work horse to till his farm. His son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) names the horse, Joey and painstakingly trains him as a farm horse. But Germany invades England so Joey is sold to the British troops. Much to the chagrin of Albie who is heartbroken but also quite determined that they will be reunited after the war. After significant battles, Joey makes his way across the European countryside as he is passed on to different 'owners' throughout the duration of the war.


I'd have to warn you that the film is overtly melodramatic and frankly sentimental. It is amazing how much you find yourself invested in the journey of a horse. How you wince every time Joey was treated badly. For instance, when he was used to pull the heavy artillery for the German army. Or how Joey got entangled in the barbed wire as he tried to escape from the tank amidst the barrage of gun fires. This cringe worthy moment leads to a vital scene where both sides (the English and the Germans) called a truce to aid in rescuing Joey from the tangled mess.


Although it heavily features the theme of war and drama, it is also an intimate narrative about a young guy and his deep affinity with a horse. Even though there were instances when Spielberg would overload on the dramatic moments, it was still quite a poignant, soulful movie to view.


Its cinematography was top notch. It featured wide aerial shots of rural England with its lust green fields, along with deep, vibrant hues of orange skies as well as bleak dark tones of the battlefields. "War Horse" is one of the most visually stunning film I've seen in the longest time.


A deeply inspiring film that had some dragging moments, it plowed on for almost 2 and a half hours and concludes with a pretty predictable ending fraught with emotions.

Friday, August 10, 2012

THE BOURNE LEGACY

Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Ed Norton


"There was never just one"


Cinema 4, Shang Cineplex



When I first learned they were shooting another Bourne movie, I was baffled as I knew "The Bourne Ultimatum" wrapped it all up. Jason Bourne's main purpose is over, he finds out who he is and why he is the way he is.


But as the blurb says "there was never just one" so the saga continues. This time it is directed by Tony Gilroy who was one of the scriptwriters of the 3 Bourne movies. And despite the title, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is merely mentioned from time to time through news clippings and inter agency dialogue among the CIA bigwigs. This film focuses on Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) an operative who is part of another CIA program, a spin off known as "Project Outcome". The exposure of "Operation Blackbriar" and "Treadstone" by Bourne and an impending Senate inquiry forces the conspirators to shut down all their running programs. So they set out to dispose all the agents of "Project Outcome".


This advanced program utilizes agents who are drugged with pills to make them more effective in their duties. With the cancellation of the program, the operatives have to find ways to survive without these color coded meds. Aaron Cross decides to go to the source, a research lab in Maryland. He is just in time to rescue Dr Martha Shearing (Rachel Weisz) from being liquidated by hired assassins.


The first part of the film is mostly dialogue driven shot in dark places with the CIA bigwigs in panic mode from the Bourne expose. The audio was pretty bad as I had a difficult time deciphering the dialogue. I thought it was simply at the theater where I watched but I read viewers at other cinemas had the same complaint. So I guess it was really filmed that way.


The various location scenes were still an integral part of this film but the action scenes were scaled down, remarkably. The thrilling chase scene (almost 20 minutes) shot on the chaotic scenes of Manila, although well directed and edited came a tad late in the film. By that point, the loopholes in the plot were too glaring to be salvaged. Aaron Cross merely wanted to get his hands on the pills to survive, he didn't have a larger agenda - is a rather flimsy premise. The film certainly has a different pace and a different focus. But it's surely still thrilling,but in a very different manner. The movie itself is more of a slow burn, but not particularly boring. Because you can still feel the sense of urgency on the part of Aaron Cross to survive, at all cost.


The new cast to whom the franchise has been handed down to is uniformly strong. I've admired Jeremy Renner for his steady and solid performance since I saw him in "The Hurt Locker". Here he proves himself a solid understudy for Damon, even if the character he plays is rather less interesting. He still gave his role some dimension by adding an air of mystery. It would be intriguing to unravel the personal demons that haunts Aaron Cross, in the next installment. Given that the ending was rather vague and open to a lot of speculations.


Edward Norton is equally good as the ruthless Colonel Byers. It would be interesting to know the personal history between Byers and Cross which they kept alluding to through grainy flashbacks. Rachel Weisz is persuasive and brings a sensitive portrayal to her role as the doctor caught in the turmoil. The chemistry between Cross and Dr Shearing is convincing with a hint of a romantic interlude in the offing.


So whether they decide to make a sequel or not, I still think "Bourne Legacy" did fairly good as a lengthened side plot of the Bourne saga. So although I don't expect Matt Damon to reprise his role, people should remember the character's name is Aaron Cross and not refer to him as Bourne. A mistake that I admit I tend to commit as well.

Monday, August 6, 2012

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman
Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Modine


"The Legends Ends"


Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex


It was a stormy day but by hook or by crook, it was imperative I watch Bruce Wayne before he bids adieu to his fabled alter ego, Batman. Mostly because it had been running for 3 straight weeks and it felt like I was the only person left out on a grand secret that everyone was raving about. So we were only 7, myself included nicely nestled within that cold, dark cinema theater. In the same manner that Bane and his cohorts were wreaking havoc over Gotham City, torrential monsoon rains were battering Metro Manila with much fury.


I did my homework by reading articles on the previous film, The Dark Knight which was shown 4 years ago. This much hyped final film had so much going against it, for instance how could you surpass having the Joker (the late Heath Ledger) as its antagonist?


Answer: You don't. You simply dust the cobwebs off and move on full throttle to the next project with guns a blazing, no pun intended!


Gotham City is now enjoying a peaceful period where crime is almost non existent. Its main characters have either died, voluntarily gone into retirement, are now maintaining low profiles and/or turned into a recluse. In short, boring times have fallen upon Gotham City.


So the scriptwriters along with director Christopher Nolan at the helm decides to shake the audience out of his stupor by introducing us to a wide bunch of characters, some of whom we can't figure out just yet as the film unfolds whether they are good or bad. Anne Hathaway as the burglar Catwoman is without a doubt the most enigmatic presence in the movie. While the rookie cop turned detective Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is quietly interesting. Bane (Tom Hardy) with his distracting mask that caches both his physical as well as emotional pain was also mildly interesting as a villain. Then he is abruptly reduced to something so insignificant and small. The menacing villain was indeed a towering figure throughout the movie until he is exposed as merely a secondary pawn towards the end of the trilogy. Sad!


In putting up with the current times, Nolan presents us a society where the people take over the reigns of their battled city. With nearly the entire police force trapped in tunnels, ordinary citizens are encouraged to seize their freedom from law. Fed up with the powerful and wealthy, they invade their homes and toss them into the streets. Chaos rules as the people hold mock trials where they judge and sentence the wealthy to exile and death. They rule that every citizen must make a stand because every citizen matters. It openly mocks the idea of a people's revolution, portraying ordinary people as incapable of governing themselves.


The main theme of the film is 'fear'. Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, has lost his soul and his very reason for living. He took on the sins of Harvey Dent and has paid for it with his body and his very essence. Even Alfred (Michael Caine) his loyal butler is not above being involved in substituting truth for lies. Each of these character lives in fear of their lies and the consequences of them coming to light. Each one know that these lies have the power to destroy all that they have worked for. But as each lie is exposed, it only intensifies their drive to be reborn and rise above them.


In this context, I believe "The Dark Knight Rises" was able to redeem itself. It shows us the slow but steady climb out of the rubble by Batman even though he faces formidable obstacles in his path. This movie does everything it can to show that our faith can only be rewarded if it is in the right thing, if is is based on truth. Sometimes the truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.


Yes, there are some glaring loopholes with the plot, and the various murky side plots and the multiple characters may initially slow down viewers. However, as a superhero film, it confronts topics that are relevant. The "good vs. evil" scenario, the value of freedom, the class tension, the personal struggle and redemption of its main characters. Add all of this to the action, special effects, the soundtrack and the impressive cast and you get a fitting finale to send off the caped crusader into the sunset.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

THREE TIMES

3rd Taiwan Film Festival
Shang Cineplex




"THREE TIMES" is included in the line-up for this year's Taiwan Film Festival. I am reposting my review as I watched it, last year at the same festival. I don't know why they do repeats when there is a wide selection they can choose from. This year, "THREE TIMES" will be shown on August 3 and 5, both at 7pm.


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.

 

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