Tuesday, January 28, 2014

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig,
Sean Penn, Adam Scott

"Stop Dreaming. Start Living."


Based on the classic story by James Thurber, Ben Stiller directs and casts himself in the lead role as Walter Mitty.  An introverted man who works in the photography department of LIFE Magazine. He is stuck in a monotonous job so he escapes by zoning out and daydreams about a much more vicarious life.

But his life is about to drastically change as he discovers that the negative of the photo for the magazine's final cover (it is ceasing publication and venturing into the online format) is missing. Walter, with the encouraging help of a co-worker/love interest Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), springs into action on a quest to solve the case of the missing negative from its source.

Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) is the famed yet reclusive veteran photographer who captured the missing shot, now known as negative no. 25.  This journey to hunt down O'Connell leads Walter through Greenland, Iceland, Afghanistan and the Himalayas. Along the way, he reignites former passions, like skateboarding and hiking, and his daydreams become more and more unnecessary.

Whimsical is the word that comes to mind when I think about this movie. Ben Stiller does an excellent job in presenting and acting out this unique character.  His able direction, buoyed by a vivid cinematography and a good soundtrack of suitable songs is well paced. The story has all the right mixture of comedy, action and drama.

This movie kicks quite a punch with its apparently obvious message. Many of our (day) dreams are just a few steps away from being realities. All it takes is self determination and a strong belief that it is all within our reach.  So stop whining and complaining and go out there and grasp the opportunity to turn the ordinary into extraordinary adventures!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill,
Margot Robbie, Jean Dujardin,
Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner


Leonardo DiCaprio in no way resembles the real Jordan Belfort. He is way too 'pretty' compared to the craggy faced Belfort. So to see him jump into Belfort's persona might need a little adjustment given that the role does demand a lot from DiCaprio. But surprisingly he does a wonderful job as the crass, smooth talking, in.your.face stockbroker who made millions by conning the rich to invest in stocks of dubious companies.

The real Belfort in his interview with Piers Morgan remain steadfast in his belief that he only 'robbed' from the very rich and no one really lost all their life savings. After his incarceration he has somehow 'reformed' and now 'robs' common people by giving motivational talks about the art of selling.   Although he admits that most of his current earnings go towards paying the huge amount he still owes the investors of his now defunct company, the Stratton Oakmont.

But I'm getting way ahead, the film explores the rise of Belfort from a young idealistic stockbroker to a greedy, conniving, immoral, drugs and sex addicted capitalist.  The dialogue is sharp, witty and mostly peppered with the *F* word which I doubt was even used as rampantly as it is depicted in the early 1990s.  Raunchy scenes of the debauchery that went on in and out of their office are thrown at the audience in every other frame.

The film is also quite funny with Jonah Hill, the comedian bringing in most of the laughs. I like the repartee between him and DiCaprio, their scenes together were always spot on.  The sequence showing the 'cerebral palsy' stage of the drugs kicking in, had me laughing out so much I almost peed in my pants.

Running at almost 3 hours long, there were a few scenes which could have been edited out. But the pacing was quite fast with so much going on at the same time, it felt like you were as high as most of the characters on screen.
 
Labeled as a "satire", it was aimed to expose the over the top, excesses of the capitalist world in the early 1990s.  Yet as the film progressed, it seemed to me it glamorized this sort of behavior.  That it was alright to manipulate and con people, because after all, who doesn't want to be filthy rich, right? When you're laughing at the destruction Belfort causes to not only himself, but also those around him, you realize the movie has failed to set a justifiable tone.

Having said that, I believe "The Wolf of Wolf Street" is a well crafted movie. Martin Scorsese never disappoints and by delivering such an outlandish over the top film, he proves he is one of the best directors in the industry who dares to take risks and is fearless in his approach.

Monday, January 20, 2014

BLUE JASMINE

Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins,
Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale,
Louis C.K, Andrew Dice Clay



The very few readers of this blog surely know by now that I am an avid fan of Woody Allen's huge repertoire of films. I like how he explores and handles a wide range of complex characters. Each of them born from the vivid figment of his very creative imagination.  Despite having a very murky and turbulent personal life, he has always championed feminism as most of his leading characters are strong willed yet deeply flawed and vulnerable women.

In "Blue Jasmine", she is personified through Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett) a socialite who has fallen from grace and must swallow her pride and her humiliation by moving in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) who lives in San Francisco. Ginger is the complete opposite of Jasmine.  A divorced single mother of two rambunctious boys, she makes ends meet by working at a grocery store.  Unrefined, blue collar working class type.

The story moves back and forth. We see Jasmine's pampered life with her businessman husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) who turns out to be this Bernie Madoff type of person. While in San Fo, she is forced to work at a dental clinic while taking up computer lessons so she can eventually take an online course to be an interior designer.

Cate Blanchett as the neurotic, insecure, erratic and self obsessed Jasmine French plays the role with such brilliance. She can easily shift between the prissy socialite to the woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown attempting to rebuild her already tattered life. Although we know from the glimpses of her affluent lifestyle that she more or less knew about the dubious deals of her husband, you can't help but feel a certain amount of sympathy for Jasmine as she struggles to cope with a completely different life on the far end of the spectrum.  Quite a tragic figure, even more so towards the end when the already quite fragile and vulnerable Jasmine is handed another blow.

Although there are certain loopholes in the plot (how can Jasmine not know how to use a computer in this day and age?), the movie fits right alongside Allen's recent European adventures in terms of quality. The cast is less star-studded yet no less talented. Special mention goes to Sally Hawkins for her seamless portrayal of the beleaguered Ginger.

But truly, this riches to rags tragic story is a must watch and deserves to be seen for Cate Blanchett’s excellent performance alone.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

SPRING FILM FESTIVAL 2014


Now on its eighth year, the Spring Film Festival features Chinese films in different genres.  It will be held from January 24 to February 2, 2014.  Organized by the Ateneo de Manila University Ricardo Leong Center for Chinese Studies together with the Confucius Institute and Credit Suisse.

Aside from the free film screenings, the 2014 Spring Film Festival will also feature an exhibit of paintings by the artists from the International Studies for Chinese Arts and the students of Ateneo’s Confucius Institute. The exhibit will be held at Shangri-La Plaza’s East Atrium from January 24 to February 6. On February 1, a workshop on Chinese painting and crafts will be held from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The following films with their synopsis will be featured:

Aftershock
Running time: 135 minutes
Director: Feng Xiaogang
Lead stars: Zhang Jingchu, Chen Daoming, Lu Yi, Xu Fan, Zhang Guoqiang, Li Chen
Synopsis: Two seven-year-old twins are buried under the rubble of the devastating earthquake. The rescue team explains to their mother, Li Yuanni, that freeing either child will almost certainly result in the death of the other. She is forced to make the most difficult decision of her life and must choose between her children.

1911 Revolution
Running time: 125 minutes
Director: Zhang Li, Jackie Chan
Lead stars: Jackie Chan, Winston Chao, Li Bingbing
Synopsis: As the country enters the new century, China is facing a crisis. Two warring factions have emerged, starvation among the citizens is rampant and political reforms have made matters worse. The seven-year-old Emperor and his mother, Empress Dowager Longyu (Joan Chen), are out of sync with the people’s needs after 250 years of total power. As Huang Xing (Jackie Chan) arrives from his studies on modern warfare in Japan, he finds himself picking up his sword to lead a rebellion against the powerful Qing Dynasty and the New Army.

Snowfall in Taipei
Running time: 90 minutes
Director: Huo Jianqi
Lead stars: Chen Bailin, Tong Yao
Synopsis: May, a woman singer from mainland China, suddenly loses her voice and has conflicts with Ah Lei, her producer and secret lover. Out of anger, she goes to the old town of Jingtong where she meets Xiao Mo, a warm-hearted man. Xiao Mo finds May a dwelling place and helps her get a job at a local restaurant. May finds happiness and consolation from the old streets of the small town and her voice is getting better and better, but her heart is still in another place.

Let’s Fall in Love
Running time: 90 minutes
Director: Pu Sheng
Lead Stars: Wang Quanyou, Yuan Jiabao, Xu Zifei, Guan Shaozeng , Xiahou Qiyu, Zhang Jue, Liu Weisen
Synopsis: Tan Momo enters the conservatory of music to learn how to play the guqin, a seven-stringed plucked instrument. His teacher places great hopes on him while his girlfriend, Xia Fei, has the greatest esteem for him. Upon their graduation, Momo, Xia Fei and other young people finally walk out of the campus and begin to experience the ups and downs of real life.

Thei-Go King and His Son
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Zhou Wei
Lead stars: Sun Song, Wang Chengyang
Synopsis: Liu Yishou, an amateur Go player, has been laid off. With no other skills to make a living, he teaches Go in a humble training course for children. Life has been hard, and his wife has decided to divorce him. His young son, Xiaochuan, has chosen to stay with him through his difficulties. In an unexpected occasion, Xiaochuan displayed an amazing talent for Go, and his father supported him to further develop his gift for the game.

Li Mi Conjecture
Running time: 95 minutes
Director: Cao Baoping
Lead stars: Zhou Xun, Deng Chao, Zhang Hanyu
Synopsis: Due to the intervention of her parents, taxi driver girl Li Mi breaks up with her long-term boyfriend, Fang Wen. For four years, Li Mi continues to search for his whereabouts in a constant tug-of-war between hope and despair. An eerie murder is witnessed, leading her to a man nearly identical to her missing lover. Could he be the one she has been looking for?

Where Is My Home?
Running time: 95 minutes
Director: Misheng He
Lead stars: Yuan Lu, Fengbin Wang
Synopsis: Mrs. Geng is a simple mother who raises two children on her own. Her son makes his way to the city and offers to have her come live with him and his family. Despite the improved material conditions of the city, Mrs. Geng cannot help but feel lonely. It takes some time before her children understand how she feels and strive to rebuild their family.

City Monkey
Running time: 90 minutes
Synopsis: He Zhiping is a senior high school student who lives in a big old Beijing hutong yard with his mother and grandmother. He loves parkour, an extremely dangerous sport in most people’s eyes. His mother strongly disapproves of it and hopes he could focus only on his entrance exams to university. Clashes of different concepts, rebellion of the youth, and persistence to the ideal are unavoidable problems for them.

Schedule of films (Free Admission on a first come first served basis)

January 24 (Friday)
12 p.m. – Thei-Go King and His Son
2:30 p.m. – 1911 Revolution

January 25 (Saturday)
12:15 p.m. – Where is My Home
2:30 p.m. – 1911 Revolution
5 p.m. – Li Mi Conjecture
7:30 p.m. – Aftershock

January 26 (Sunday)
12 p.m. – Aftershock
2:45 p.m. – Thei-Go King and His Son
5:15 p.m. – 1911 Revolution
7:45 p.m. – Let’s Fall in Love

January 27 (Monday)
12:30 p.m. – Snowfall in Taipei
2:45 p.m. – City Monkey
4:45 p.m. – Where is My Home?
7:30 p.m. – Aftershock

January 28 (Tuesday)
1 p.m. – Li Mi Conjecture
3:30 p.m. – Let’s Fall in Love
5:30 p.m. – Where is My Home?
7:30 p.m. – 1911 Revolution


 

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