Friday, June 27, 2014

THERE BE DRAGONS

Charlie Cox, Wes Bentley, Dougray Scott
Rodrigo Santoro, Olga Kurylenko

"Even Saints have a Past"


Renowned British director Roland Joffe (The Killing Fields, The Mission, City of Joy) tackles with keen precision the Spanish Civil War which he used as a backdrop to the story of two childhood friends who veer off into different paths. 

When "There be Dragons" was first released in 2011, the CBCP (Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines) publicly endorsed it because it featured the life story of Saint Jose Maria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. 

In this film, his story is unearthed by a journalist named Roberto Torres (Dougray Scott) who was assigned to write about Jose Maria Escriva, who was then still a candidate for canonization to sainthood. It turns out his estranged father, Judge Manolo Torres (Wes Bentley) was a childhood friend of the founder of Opus Dei. Although Manolo is reluctant at first to recount his past as it still haunts him, he gives in and records it through audio tapes.

This is told in haunting flashbacks as the dying Manolo Torres confesses to his son his crimes and misdeeds circa 1936 when he was a spy working for the Fascist government and he was able to embed himself among the Communist rebels who were led by its leader, Oriol (Rodrigo Santoro). The tale also revolves around the saga of courageous Catholic priest Jose Maria Escriva (Charlie Cox), as well as an ambitious Hungarian volunteer fighter Ildiko (Olga Kurylenko).

So although we are led to believe that this is a biopic of Escriva, the more the film unfolded the more it looked like Manolo Torres had a more pivotal role. Never mind that Manolo Torres is a fictional character and that he was just born out of the figment of Joffe's imagination.  Other than a brief childhood friendship, nothing really connects Manolo and Jose Maria, together. Their stories move forward on parallel tracks that never really intersect or even reflect one another in any meaningful way. 

It also left me wondering how come Jose Maria Escriva's tale was left stranded in the 1930s after he was able to escape and make it safely across the Andorra mountains?  What happened after his escape? How did the Opus Dei flourish? Was his life really 'saintly'?

Perhaps Joffe who is a confessed agnostic didn't want his film to take an overtly religious tone. Perhaps he merely wanted to examine both the goodness and the evil that dwelt in these two men's souls. I can only assume and speculate at this point and form my opinion on merely what was presented in this film.

Having said that, I believe that "There be Dragons" is a good movie, worth seeing. And it should appeal to a wide range of audience regardless of their religious beliefs. The portrayal of the Spanish Civil War is even handed and the action sequences were competent. The cast do their best to flesh out their characters although some of the dialogue can be a tad 'corny' for lack of a better word. It also dealt with redemption, remorse and forgiveness on a wide broad spectrum as essayed by the lives of Manolo Torres and St. Jose Maria Escriva.
Robert Torres said in the film "I think it was Oscar Wilde who said: Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."
Oscar Wilde was right!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

LABOR DAY

Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin
Gattlin Griffith



A coming of age tale set in 1987 (although it seems more like the mid 1970s) unfolds during Labor Day holiday. An unexpected visitor holds a single mother and her son hostage in their own home. It turns out he is an escaped convict although he insists the crime he committed was an accident. 

Josh Brolin plays the mysterious stranger Frank who is quite menacing, physically but eventually turns out he has a heart of gold. I mean anyone who would come across the hunky figure of Josh Brolin would naturally run the other way. Frank's back story is glimpsed through dreamy like flashback sequences sans dialogue. And as his past is revealed interspersed with the ongoing drama, you slowly form an entirely different opinion about his true character.

Once we establish that there is nothing threatening nor menacing about Frank, we feel comfortable about his getting close to Adele (Kate Winslet). After all it really isn't difficult to 'like' Frank, he repairs the house, cooks for them, teaches them to bake a delicious peach pie and he even teaches her son to play baseball.

They are both lonely, lost souls trapped in an unforgiving world who find comfort in each other's company. As expected, Kate Winslet is brilliant in her role. You feel a lot of empathy for Adele as it is revealed that in her distant past she was a fun loving and carefree person, who sadly lost her joie de vivre due to a painful episode in her life. 

Together, Frank and Adele exude a palpable chemistry with an implied underlying sexual tension that is enough to heat the screen yet it isn't laid bare for the audience to feast on. In this case, it is a good element as it doesn't cheapen or vulgarize what Frank and Adele share.

Yet at the same time, it seems that is the only main draw of the film. Aside from the very few minutes of threat and tension of imminent danger as the authorities close in on their search for Frank, the movie pretty much falls flat. 

Since I like and tend to focus on the positive, I'd say "Labor Day" is a tender, nostalgic family drama that is a tense yet powerful dramatization of a deep relationship that blossoms between Frank and Adele. 
 

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