Sunday, March 24, 2013

THE LADY

Michelle Yeoh, David Thewlis


"Wife. Mother. Prisoner. Hero"

HBO



Luc Besson would probably be the last director on earth you would associate with directing a biopic. The French director is more renowned for high octane filled action movies.   

Yet with "The Lady" he presents a poignant look at the story of an iconic figure, Aung San Suu Kyi.  The Burmese leader who spent 15 years under house arrest for opposing the military junta in her country.

It begins in Rangoon, 1947 with the assassination of her father, a popular leader who was killed on the eve of his assumption of the presidency.  Almost 40 years later, Aung San Suu Kyi returns from London where she has been living with her British husband, a Professor at Oxford and her two sons.   In 1998, she returns to Myanmar to be with her mother who is gravely ill,  she then decides to stay in order to restore democracy.

The government puts her under house arrest for inciting people to fight against the junta. For most of her long confinement, Aung San Suu Kyi’s husband and sons remained in England although they were allowed to visit during school holidays.

Besson focused more attention on the much tested but enduring marriage between Aung San Suu Kyi and her husband, Professor Michael Aris  It may be a good way to personalize a political story, but it also derailed the movie’s pursuit of larger and perhaps more significant purposes.   

For instance, it didn't feature how she became a political figure.  Yes, granted that she is the daughter of a politician so naturally it is in her genes.  But it would also be interesting to know her views when she was still a student in London. Was she influenced by her studies in a Western society?  What made her believe that democracy was the only form of government which was help the Burmese people?

The film is well crafted and told with a well researched narrative.  It certainly shows that behind every great woman is a greater man who is secure and quite aware of his role in the equation.  Michael Aris was a man who stayed in the background by supporting his wife's noble intentions.  But he wasn't a silent partner as he did extensive propaganda and raised funds as well as worldwide political support for the Burmese people.  

The most intense moment remains that scene where he was already stricken with prostate cancer yet he refused to let his wife come visit him in London.  The couple’s decision for her to stay in Burma during her husband’s terminal illness, because they know the generals wouldn’t let her return, is played up as a more tragic personal sacrifice than anything else. 

Overall, the film comes across more as a vivid human drama than a political story. It doesn't really reveal much about the iconic figure's life before she became the definitive symbol against the oppressive regime in Myanmar.  For a news junkie like myself, it just played out events I was already quite familiar with.

But Michelle Yeoh as Aung San Suu Kyi was perfect for the role.  From her physical appearance to her manner of walking and speaking, she captured the essence of The Lady with the flower in her hair.

Monday, March 18, 2013

DJANGO UNCHAINED

Jaime Foxx, Christoph Waltz,
Leonardo diCaprio, Kerry Washington,
Dennis Christopher, Samuel L. Jackson

"Life, Liberty and the
Pursuit of Vengeance"

Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex




A few weeks ago, I was enthralled by how passionate President Abraham Lincoln was in having the 13th Amendment (the abolition of slavery) to the U.S. Constitution passed by all means.  Then here comes Quentin Tarantino's irreverent Western Spaghetti that viscerally exposes the horrors of slavery so you'd silently thank Lincoln for eliminating this abomination.   Alright, granted that it is based on the wickedly absurd yet brilliant mind of Tarantino, it still doesn't shy too far away from the unspeakable abuses that one race suffered during that era.

Set in 1858, the film opens with a German dentist turned bounty hunter named Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz) buying the freedom of a slave named Django, (Jaime Foxx) so he can positively identify a trio of brothers on his "Wanted: Dead or Alive" list.    Django (the *D* is silent) reluctantly agrees so Schultz promises to aid him in his quest to find and rescue his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from her new master, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) a viciously sadistic plantation owner.

The first part is a series of chases and shoot outs as the tandem 'capture' one by one the felons on their list. Dialogue is funny and witty mostly courtesy of the eloquent language employed by the loquacious Dr. Schultz.   Part drama and comedy (like the scene with the Ku Klux Klan bickering over their head gears), but mostly violent with racist overtones (the *N* word is mentioned repeatedly) all juxtaposed with loud rap music blaring out loud.

But that is totally tame compared to the second part where the sequence shifts to Candyland, the plantation where Broomhilda is literally held captive.  It takes on a different tone as we are caught in a bizarre realm where black slaves are trained to fight each other with their bare knuckles until death.  A sick form of entertainment for slave owners.  Candyland is also peppered with freaky characters like Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) the manipulative and eerie head slave of Monsieur Candie.

The violent bloodbath leading to the climax is one of the most graphic and gory scenes I've ever seen on film. My eyes were closed during the entire scene but I could still hear the bone crunching, flesh tearing bullets ripping human bodies apart in the bloody carnage.  Totally horrific but I'd dare say well filmed and nicely orchestrated despite the cringe factor.

At almost 3 hours, the movie was naturally dragging in certain aspects. It may also be too graphic (like the dogs attacking the runway slave + the bloody climax) for sensitive viewers and too talky for the bored ones who prefer fast moving action scenes. 

Yet you can't help but credit Tarantino's creative mind in coming up with a crazy, never seen before western that leaves quite a powerful impact. His dialogue is smart and funny, his scenarios boldly unpredictable.  His assortment of interesting characters (imagine a slave who speaks German named Broomhilda!) have well developed personalities.  His main subject is quite a taboo matter yet he handles it with the right mix of humor, drama and action. Overall, "Django Unchained" is mostly a fun, twisted yet entertaining tale about freedom, vengeance and redemption.

Friday, March 1, 2013

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper,
Robert de Niro, Jacki Weaver

"Watch for the Signs"


Cinema 2, Shang Cineplex




After a stint in a mental institution, Pat (Bradley Cooper) is released into the custody of his mother. He comes home to reintegrate with his family and his friends.  Soon enough, he starts obsessing about reuniting with his ex wife whose infidelity led to his meltdown.

Along comes Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) the sister of Pat's friend who has her own mental issues, they seem to gravitate towards each other because of their common factor.  But Pat insists his quest is still on so Tiffany agrees to help him with a condition attached to her promise.

It was interesting to see Bradley Cooper in a role that doesn't have require him to be totally trashed (ehem: The Hangover series).  He was annoying and quite irritating the entire film but that just proves how credible he was in acting out the role.

Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany was a delightful character despite her own idiosyncrasies. She was authentic, quite sharp witted and able to tame Pat's OCDC tendencies.   Honestly, he was quite a handful.  Her refreshing appearance totally belies her character's dark past.

Pat and Tiffany develop a good friendship. The two have an understanding and admiration for each other. A chemistry  which Pat desperately tries to quash as he doesn't want to lose focus on his quest.   Case in point, he agrees to be tutored in dancing lessons to give in to her condition yet he urges her to be the messenger of his letter to his ex wife.

"Silver Linings Playbook" is a peculiar story with just the right dosage of a quirky romantic comedy.  It is told through sharp dialogue and acted out by a genuinely talented cast.   One look at Robert de Niro's character as Pat, Sr., the obsessed Eagles fan and you will really understand why his son is so inclined.

The heart of the film no doubt belongs to Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, their charismatic chemistry is the main draw. Their romance proves there is indeed a silver lining behind every dark and turbulent cloud.
 

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