Sunday, October 28, 2012

DRIVE

Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan,
Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks

"There are No Clean Getaways"



Ryan Gosling stars as a Hollywood stuntman who also moonlights as a driver for getaway cars used in heists.  A man of few words with little facial expressions, he is only addressed as "the Driver".  A loner who doesn't have much going on in his life but it is quite evident he comes from a murky past which we aren't privy to. 

It is only when he makes the acquaintance of his neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son, Benicio that he seems to break out of his shell. But those rare moments are short lived as he finds himself in deep trouble after he gets involved in a botched heist c/o of Standard (Oscar Isaac).   The ex convict husband of Irene who owes some debt to his 'sponsor' in the penitentiary.

Soon enough, the driver becomes the target of a very ruthless gangster (Albert Brooks) and his henchmen.  Suddenly, the story turns dark and violent with a very suspenseful tone that keeps you on the edge of your seat.  I was thinking it was about time, the film heated up.   But boy, did I get my wish. 

It develops into a chaotic thriller with visceral and very brutal scenes.  Yet at the same time, the expression of the Driver remains stoic as ever.   The film is quite minimalist in nature yet very effective in projecting a character that knows how to dominate every situation he finds himself in.

Most if not all of the credits goes to Ryan Gosling. His screen presence is quite powerful even without much dialogue.  He is a simmering intense character that knows how to think quickly and he is fully capable of defending himself in precarious incidents.

I contend that "Drive" might not appeal to most female viewers for its brutal scenes yet I do recommend it for one reason only -  Ryan Gosling in an iconic role he was born to portray.

Monday, October 22, 2012

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN

Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt
Kristin Scott Thomas, Amr Waked

"Make the Impossible Possible"

Cinema 5, Trinoma Mall



For some reason, this charming little film was only shown at the Ayala malls cinemas. So I ventured out of my comfort zone and found myself sitting in an almost empty theater. It felt like I was seated in my own living room  - the only thing missing was my pillow.

The movie is based on Paul Torday’s novel with the very strange title.  It stems from a project of a wealthy sheik who wants to bring salmon fishing to his native land, Yemen.  Of course, it is an impossible task yet when the sheik is willing to invest 50 million dollars into the project, you simply cannot refuse the lucrative offer.   Not to mention the fact that the British government needs a moral booster after some of its troops were injured in a grenade attack in Afghanistan. Billed under the "good news from the Middle East" category, the gargantuan operation would certainly boost Anglo Arabic relations.

The persons directly involved in the enormous logistics for this major project include a skeptical fisheries expert named Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), the investment consultant of the sheik Ms Harriet Chetwold-Talbot (Emily Blunt),  Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), the press officer of the British Prime Minister's office and Sheik Muhammed (Amr Waked).

Aside from the political connotations and questions like "Can money really buy everything?", the film strives pretty much on the solid acting of the cast.  I liked the chemistry between Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt.  Both equally talented, they essayed their roles with subtle nuances giving their characters so much depth.

Buoyed by a beautiful cinematography with interesting angles of long, wide shots of picturesque terrain as well as creative underwater segments, this movie was visually appealing.

The sheikh who is considered somehow of a visionary with progressive ideas for his country is very enigmatic. He strongly believes in the immeasurable power of faith and making the impossible, possible.  It is the same faith that guides the viewers as you watch and silently yet firmly wish that the project will be a success. 

"Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" is a delightful little movie that shows that it isn't always a bad thing to have dreams which no one believes in. As long as you have conviction, coupled with a positive attitude, you can accomplish and achieve anything with great success.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

ARGO

Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin
John Goodman, Victor Garber


"The movie was fake.
The mission was real."

Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex



"Argo" is Ben Affleck's third venture as a director, and I learned 3 things from this film.

(1) I was just a kid when the US Embassy in Teheran was stormed and its employees were taken hostage.  But I remember my parents were tuned in daily for updates on the hostage crisis because after all my diplomat father also worked at an embassy.

Through the years, I read bits and pieces of this event. But it is only through this film, I learned that 6 consular staff from the Embassy were able to 'escape' from the chaotic US embassy and sought refuge in the Canadian Ambassador's residence. 

The rest of the film focuses on how one CIA agent Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) who disguises himself as a Canadian film producer scouting for exotic locales in Teheran was able to rescue them and bring them home safely.

(2) The US government through its various departments and agencies would do anything within their power and jurisdiction to secure its citizens working and living overseas. During a brainstorming session, the top honchos  deliberate on various scenarios for a daring rescue.  Most of them if not all were bordering on the absurd.

Their final 'operation' sounds like a ridiculous idea on paper yet they managed to pull it off.  They decide to sponsor a fake movie complete with storyboard drawings, full cast and crew, producers and big studio backing, full media coverage (publicity shots) to serve as a front for the rescue.   And although it is a good thing, the operation was a success, "Argo" also exposes just how manipulative the US government can be in its quest to maintain its interests under the guise of protecting its citizens. Creepy, really.

(3) Ben Affleck  is much better at directing films than acting in them.  His technique to use a grainy cinematography reminiscent of the late 1970s is quite clever.  Not to mention his keen eye to details like the authentic wardrobe of the cast, the props (an old noisy typewriter and a clip from "The Battle for the Planet of the Apes " shown on a box type TV set) and a witty almost acerbic dialogue.

Although Affleck is the main character in this film, his subtle acting ensures he doesn't upstage the fine supporting cast led by John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston to mention a few.

In the end, this 'hidden' chapter in the Teheran US embassy hostage crisis would never have been told if it remained classified.  Although certain parts were highlighted to give the film a gritty and dramatic vibe, this story pays homage to the heroic efforts of one relentless CIA agent who risked his life for the daring clandestine mission.  I'm sure those 6 foreign service employees are eternally grateful for his efforts.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

18 COMIDAS
(18 MEALS)


11th Spanish Film Festival
Greenbelt 3, Cinema 2



As the title suggests, this Spanish film uses food as a focal point to connect the characters' tales. An interwoven vignette of different stories with characters who lead mildly interesting lives.

It starts with a voice over narration which states every meal is an opportunity to change the flavor of life.  I believe the use of voice over narration in films is quite helpful.  It guides the viewers in the development of the characters as they weave through the plot.  So I'm baffled why the director chose to use this technique merely in the beginning of the film, then abandoned it for the rest of the film.

I admit I expected more lingering shots on the sumptuous food so in that aspect it was a bit of a disappointment. But the real theme is how a meal is an opportunity for human interaction between the myriad of characters who go through break ups, special occasions, self awareness and life altering moments.

It is presented through three acts which are divided into meal times - breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Each piece is well edited and paced neatly as it all unfolds in one single day.

Set in the picturesque town of Santiago de Compostela with its massive Cathedral as the backdrop, the film offers a smorgasbord of lighthearted situations with different topics dominating each snippet. Some are given more emphasis while others are too short to create any significant impact on the overall storyline of the film.

The main characters are realistically portrayed by an ensemble cast. They’re charming, funny, sad and endearingly flawed - all battling their own demons. They go through many emotions as they travel towards the path to self redemption.  Each character ending up where they are meant to be, either by choice or by force.

18 Comidas is a predictably good Spanish film that could have used more food scenes to its advantage. But I realize it isn't a movie about food but rather how life is like a buffet table filled with different dishes. There are some dishes which you like, others which you rather not eat but either way, you need to feed yourself to avoid hunger.

Monday, October 8, 2012

TAKEN 2

Liam Nesson, Famke Janssen,
Maggie Grace, Rade Serbedzija

"First they took his daughter.
Now they're coming for him"

Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex




We have this running joke in our family that if our dad had seen the movie TAKEN, he might not have permitted me and my sister to go gallivanting around Europe. But the movie was shown in 2008 and our European sojourn was way back in the early 2001 so I figure we were relatively safe(r).  Obviously, our dad is no Liam Nesson but I'm certain given the circumstances any father for that matter would go to great lengths to protect his daughter(s).

So given that premise albeit far fetched, the original film sort of made sense.  A former intelligence agent with all the right connections at his disposal could certainly pull off a miracle.  Therefore I was curious how they would further stretch that storyline into another full length film. 

In the opening shots of  "Taken 2", we are shown a village in Albania where all the bad guys that Bryan Mills (Liam Nesson) killed in Paris are being buried and mourned by their loved ones.   At the funeral, Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), the father of  Marko, one of the men Bryan took out while saving his kidnapped daughter vows to avenge the death of his son.   

So he rounds up some more goons to capture not just Bryan, but his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and daughter Kim (Maggie Grace).   The Mills family are vacationing in Istanbul, Turkey so the whole abduction premise takes off in yet another exotic locale.  The myriad of tiny cobblestone streets, the rooftops of the crowded houses serve as excellent backdrop for Byran's spy skills to come into effect as he tries his best to once again save his loved ones from harm and in the process add up the body count substantially. 

Certain action scenes were shot with the shaky camera effect so it gave me quite a headache. While other moments had Liam Neeson's lanky frame do skillful hand combat with the villains.  Even at his age, Liam Neeson can make the fight scenes look so natural.  They are well choreographed and very realistically executed on screen.  

I kept thinking just how unfortunate it is for the Mills family to constantly find themselves in such precarious situations even when they are on holiday.  But the gorgeous locale with its chaotic and exquisitely exotic charm more than made up for the predictability factor of the flimsy plot.  

Hopefully, there won't be a Taken part 3 because honestly even though I love Liam Neeson and I've been a loyal fan of his movies even before his action hero phase, I believe it's time for the Mills family to live in their peaceful suburban environment without any Albanians or any other races bothering them.
 

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