Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Longest Ride

Britt Robertson, Scott Eastwood,
Alan Alda, Oona Chaplin

In a moment of weakness, I started reading Nicholas Sparks' "The Longest Ride", digitally. I say weakness because his novels are not my cup of tea. I admit I'm too sarcastic for these types of stories. I only made it to chapter 7 then lost interest.  

Lucky for me, there is a movie version so I don't need to read it, anymore. In the novel, the pages shift between the love story of Sophia (Britt Robertson), a graduating college student and Luke (Scott Eastwood), a champion bull rider and the narrative of an older man named Ira who is reminiscing about his own love story.

The standard ingredients for a typical romantic film are present - instant chemistry between the couple, a stumbling block to their blossoming romance along with the predictable conclusion -  boy and girl live happily, ever after. 

Actually, I found Ira (Alan Alda) and Ruth's (Oona Chaplin) love story and their life together much more interesting than that of Sophia and Luke. I was especially drawn to their inability to have children as I'm basically in the same boat. A sob story angle thrown into the loop is guaranteed to bring in the poignancy factor as well as some tears.

Naturally this begs the question "if a love story makes you cry, does this mean it was effective in sending its message across to the viewers?"  Well for me, it does. But given that I tend to cry easily especially when I can relate with the dire situation the characters encounter onscreen, perhaps it is best I don't use this factor as a strong basis for a successful narrative.

As for the cast, I like the onscreen chemistry between Clint Eastwood's carbon copy of a son and Britt Robertson. Never mind that Scott Eastwood still needs to take some acting lessons to further hone his craft. He is quite pleasing to the eyes so I can forego his awkwardness, for now! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Guardians Of The Galaxy

Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper,
Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Lee Pace

"All Heroes Start Somewhere"

After a slew of foreign language movies which fried my brain cells as well as strained my eyes from reading subtitles, I wanted to relax and watch 'popcorn' films. This Marvel Comics film adaptation was a perfect fix for my entertainment. 

The story of how a bunch of misfits turned 'action heroes' are called upon to defend some planet from an egomaniacal villain was so much fun. The soundtrack composed mostly of songs I grew up listening to was absolutely fantastic and further enhanced the 'feel good' vibe of this sci-fi themed spectacle.

Well developed and multi-dimensional characters were skillfully portrayed by a good ensemble cast. We are introduced to eccentric yet endearing characters like Rocket who is a talking, foul mouthed raccoon and a giant tree of a few words named Groot.

The very charming Chris Pratt holds the fort as the lead honcho. A comedian who has come into his own by turning into a leading man with much potential. He has lost a lot of weight and developed his physique thus attaining full blown leading man status in Hollywood. A very fickle industry where brawn is the main draw in the success or failure of a film. Chris Pratt deserves his new found success and his comedic timing is right on the dot.

I won't get into the plot/story line as it is quite complex with a myriad of characters in different forms and shapes. As complicated as it, it is still well executed and unfolds through vibrant computer generated scenes which are basically the essential features of this genre.  

I am looking forward to the second installment of this franchise which kicks off in 2017!

Thursday, June 11, 2015


Toni Servillo, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi 

In this political drama set in Italy, Toni Servillo (from "La Grande Belleza") is cast in a dual role. He plays both the disillusioned leader of the opposition party Enrico Oliveri who disappears and his lunatic identical twin brother Giovanni Ernani who is persuaded to fill in for Enrico during his absence.

Servillo plays both characters, differently. As Enrico, he is more pensive as the depressed politician who is clearly fed up with the rigors of his very demanding job. He shows up unannounced in France at the house of his ex girlfriend and her family. He is mostly in hiding and just wants to clear his mind. No questions asked, she accepts him and lets him join her family in their daily routine.

As Giovanni, he is the complete opposite. Portrayed with a sort of twinkle in his eyes, the identical twin is more loquacious and surprisingly does have some strong political views about the state of the nation. Soon enough, the populace is awakened from his more vibrant political rallies where he speaks eloquently about empowering people to get the government they truly deserve.

The film exposes some political wheeling and dealing of the government but doesn't handle it too heavily. Mostly presented through a sarcastic tone of comedy, especially when Giovanni is in high spirits and rallying the crowd at the political rallies.

In the same manner that Enrico has no clue about what to do next with his life, the last part of the film simply fails apart. With a general lack of vitriol, the movie ends ambiguously. Honestly, the brilliant acting from Toni Servillo is the only redeeming factor in this otherwise slightly boring motion picture.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Greenbelt 3 Cinemas 
On the evening of August 24, 1944 - the Allied Forces were closing in on the German troops. One man was assigned a herculean task by the Fuhrer Hitler -destroy the city of Paris as revenge for the Allied bombing of Berlin. His name was General Von Choltitz, the military governor of  Paris, France. Famous sights in the French capital like the Arc of Triomphe, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame Cathedral were all rigged with explosives. 

Cue in Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling. The consul appears unannounced using a secret staircase and gains entrance into the suite/office, he is there to persuade Von Choltitz to defy Hitler's orders. 

Scenes of the film which was adapted from a 2011 stage play by Cyril Gely are mostly confined to the suite of the General who has set camp in the elegant Hotel Meurice in the center of Paris.

Naturally, it is dialogue driven as the two main characters play a cunning game of cat and mouse as the clock is ticking away. A forceful battle of wits ensues as Nordling appeals to the General's humanity to spare the city of Paris. He reminds him of the cultural importance of the city as well as the million of lives that would be lost when Paris is destroyed. They reminisce about their lives before the war and also talk about their families. 

The Consul is sly, manipulative and also for lack of a better word, diplomatic. But this doesn't make it any easier for the General. Von Choltitz is portrayed as an iron willed military officer who has never disobeyed Hitler's orders. Caught in a delicate predicament, he is visibly torn between his duty to his superiors and his responsibility to save mankind and preserve the culture of a great city.

The two actors who portray these important characters are veteran French thespians who are reprising roles they have already played to great acclaim in the stage play. It is fascinating to watch them argue, persuade, convince, dissuade and argue some more. Their repartee was excellent and I think they can even do these roles in their sleep. 

Of course, we all know that General Von Choltitz had a change of heart so Paris retains its title as the city of lights. But throughout the film, the suspense of the 'what if' scenario kept the audience at the edge of their seats.

"Diplomatie" is highly recommended and my favorite film of all the movies I watched during this year's French Festival. Its themes are close to my heart (diplomacy and history) and Paris (my fave city in the world) is highlighted for its cultural importance.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Greenbelt 3 Cinemas

1976 when the casino wars was in full swing in Nice (the French Riviera), Agnes Le Roux returns home. After a failed marriage and doing humanitarian work in Africa, she is eager to claim her inheritance so she can start anew. 

Renee Le Roux, her mother and the owner of Le Palais de la Mediterranee casino is hesitant as her company is having financial troubles. Through the prodding of an ambitious lawyer named Maurice Agnelet, Agnes betrays her mother by selling her shares to her mother's rival, a mafia type who is taking over the whole area. 

Aside from featuring the estranged relationship between mother and daughter, the passionate affair between Agnes and Maurice (who is twice her age), the later part of the film turns into a court-room drama. 

Apparently after her mother's casino closes down and her affair with Maurice ends, Agnes suffers from severe depression. Much to the chagrin of her mother, a despondent Agnes tried to kill herself. A few months after she disappears. Renee is convinced Maurice killed her daughter, even though there were no witnesses and her body was never found, the case dragged on for years. 

The cinematography is very scenic, given that it is filmed in the French Riviera. The wardrobe though looks quite modern as there are no flare pants, long sideburns nor any flowery/hippie fashion style. 

One cannot pinpoint whether it's a thriller, mystery, romance or a court-room drama. Or a bad mix of all these genres. In the same manner, the original French title which translates roughly to "The Man Who Was Much Loved" doesn't coincide with its English title "In the Name of My Daughter".  Confusing.

Catherine Deneuve as I have mentioned before is still a stunning presence. As Renee La Roux, the pain and anguish over the disappearance of her only daughter is visceral and poignant. Guillaume Canet's boyish appearance makes it hard to believe that he is much older than Agnes. The main draw is the brilliant performance of Adele Haenel as the intense yet fiercely independent daughter, she captures the essence of the troubled Agnes with subtle conviction.

At the end of the film, we are told that a year after Maurice was acquitted, he lost an appeal and was sentenced to 20 years. Last year 2014 in the third trial on the case, Maurice's son accused his father of killing Agnes Le Roux in Italy and he was sentenced to another 20 years.

Really tragic, if you ask me. More so for Renee Le Roux as her daughter's body was never found. The case remains yet another unsolved mystery with no clear resolution nor closure which pretty much echoes the way this film unfolded.

Sunday, June 7, 2015


Greenbelt 3 Cinemas

As the title suggests, this is a tale of 3 hearts. But it is not your ordinary love triangle story, it comes with a twist. The kind of twist which can only exist and truly thrive in a French setting.

One night Marc, a homely tax auditor misses his train ride back to Paris. Stuck in the province, he meets a woman who stepped out to buy cigarettes. They walk around all night talking about anything but themselves. No names nor contact details are exchanged. The next morning at the train station, they are smitten so agree to meet next Friday at 6 P.M. in Paris at the Park near the Eiffel Tower. 

The 2nd heart belongs to the mysterious woman, Sylvie. She owns an antiques shop with her sister. Disillusioned with her marriage, she returns to their mother's house. As agreed, she takes a train for the rendez-vous to Paris, yet by 7 P.M., "Marc"  is a no show. Deeply frustrated, she agrees to relocate to the U.S with her husband.

Sophie owns the 3rd heart. After her sister relocates, she must deal with the business and discovers certain discrepancies with their accounts. She encounters Marc who helps her sort out the books. Soon enough, they fall in love, get married and have a child. Unbeknownst to either of the sisters, they both fell for the same man.

The brilliant acting by the ensemble cast of well known French thespians redeemed this averagely interesting film. Catherine Deneuve in her brief role as the matriarch is still a stunning presence. Chiara Mastroianni, her daughter with the late Italian actor, Marcello Mastroianni plays the more emotionally fragile Sophie with much conviction.

While Sylvie played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, (daughter of the late musician Serge Gainsbourg and English actress Jane Birkin), enthralls us in her role as the more impulsive sister. Both actresses are polar opposites, both in their acting style as well as their personality. Gainsbourg has her minimalism style with a bohemian flair. While Mastroianni is more expressive. So it was interesting to watch them cast as sisters with different personalities who were quite close and fond of each other.

Honestly, the story line is quite incredulous. You kept wondering when Marc will connect the dots and learn that Sylvie and Sophie were sisters. Although there were some familiar gestures which both sister shared but which Marc probably thought was coincidental until his world is in turmoil once he finds out the truth.

I notice two main problems with this particular film. The creepy foreboding music that accompanied most of the scenes between Marc and Sylvie. I was constantly on edge because I expected some 'accident' to occur but it never did. Perhaps, this was the director's way of 'warning' the audience that this type of scenario is wrong?

Another thing is the voice-over which popped up an hour into the film. It simply mentioned a few details about Marc then went silent until the conclusion. As is the norm with some if not most French movies, the ending was open ended. It is up to you to form your own conclusion. Frankly, it doesn't take too much effort to ascertain that it doesn't bode well for these three hearts.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


20th French Film Festival
Greenbelt 3 Cinemas

The vast Swiss Alps in all his majestic glory provides an excellent backdrop for this bizarre drama. Marc (Mathieu Amalric) is a creative writing professor at the University of Lausanne.  A Don Juan who beds his impressionable students and lives with his possessive sister Marianne (Karin Viard) with whom he has this semi-incestuous relationship. 

Upon the disappearance of one of his students (who in the beginning of the film is shown naked in his bed), a mysterious woman named Anna (Maiwenn) enters his already chaotic world. She claims she is the step-mother of the missing student and wants to trace her last known whereabouts. Soon enough, Marc and Anna start this torrid and very passionate affair. 

Even if the viewers know that Marc is somehow involved in the disappearance, he doesn't seem at all alarmed by this development. He carries on with his flirtatious ways, being charming although physically he isn't really an attractive man, per se. Much credit must be bestowed upon Mathieu Amalric (one of the hardest working French actors in the industry) for accepting this intriguing role. There is no doubt that there is much more to Marc than is shown but Amalric manages to insert just enough charm for the viewers to 'invest' in his character's well being even if he is clearly a disturbingly flawed character.

Several threads are interwoven yet somewhat fall short in actually providing a clearer bigger picture. It is not exactly marketed as a whodunit with investigators searching for clues, gathering evidence and interrogating Marc as the last person to have seen the student alive. It is a mystery that isn't tightly plotted but structured just loose enough for viewers to start being distrustful of the right people and scrutinizing them before suspicions are confirmed.

Based on a Phillippe Dijan novel entitled "Incidences" (which naturally I have never heard of, let alone read!), the film takes on an increasingly bizarre vibe with twists that don't quite make sense. But the panoramic scenery of the imposing snow covered mountains, the Alpine chalet where the siblings reside as well as the very modern edifice of the University of Lausanne are enough reasons to contemplate this film. Another bonus is Almaric's nuanced performance as Marc.

Friday, June 5, 2015


Greenbelt 3 Cinemas

It is 1975 and the coastal town of Marseille in the south of France has become the hub of organized crime. Led by charismatic Gaetan "Tany" Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), the head of a gangster organization simply known as La French - it deals with drugs, prostitution, corrupt cops, illegal gambling, money laundering casinos and other crime related activities.  His main market is in the US where he exports high grade heroin. He ruled the drugs trade for several years. But he soon meets his match in the tenacious Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin), a former juvenile court magistrate who is newly assigned to the anti-organized crime unit of the Marseille police force.

The film is loosely based on real events and the lead actors did their best to portray their real life characters with much conviction. Both of them are given much leeway to work with the wealth of information available for their roles. Both of them are shown as loving and supportive heads of their respective families. Both achieve notoriety within their circles. Both of them are ruthless and take their 'jobs' seriously. And the fact that they look almost identical made for interesting viewing. 

Judge Pierre Michel is very dedicated and passionate about stopping the menace of the drug trade. He is overzealous to a fault even taking risks which affect his family life. He is portrayed by Jean Dujardin, who achieved fame as the silent movie actor in the acclaimed black and white film "The Artist" which won all the major awards, the year it was released. I still see him as the actor with the goofy smile and the twinkle in his eyes so it can be distracting to witness him as a serious, never-say-die-attitude police judge. He is quite convincing, both physically (the long sideburns ruled) and artistically. 

Tany Zampa was quite a polarizing figure, back then. He was a larger than life crime boss who headed the huge 'empire' composed of Corsicans, Neapolitan Italians and thugs who cooked massive amounts of heroin for export to the United States. Gilles Lellouche was credible as the ruthless gangster who didn't hesitate to kill or have his henchmen kill anyone who stood in his nefarious ways. In fact, he registered more screen presence than Dujardin. But then perhaps it is because bad guys tend to be glamorized more in these types of films. 

The crime thriller was a bit exciting but did lose some steam midway after some of the action packed scenes laid low but then it picked up a notch towards the suspenseful ending. Clocking at over 2 hours, the story lacked focus here and there but it never felt overplayed. Its solid substance and gritty nature was compelling enough to hold one's attention even for 135 minutes.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


Greenbelt 3 Cinemas

This film is based on actual events which occurred in the late 1970s in Oise, Northern France. The police force is baffled after several women are murdered by a serial killer. But the perpetrator just happens to be a police officer who is also part of the group investigating these murders.

Franck Neuhart (Guillaume Canet) is a shy police officer who lives a solitary life. He has no friends, lives in a dingy apartment. Yet he is a dedicated and diligent law enforcer and the film doesn't offer any real explanation for his lunacy. Leading a double life, he turns into a cold blooded killer, tracking young girls and shooting them for no apparent reason. 

After each killing, he hurts himself (perhaps to 'atone' for his crime) by submerging in an ice filled bath tub, self flagellation or wrapping barbed wire around his arms. Quite disturbing yet it conforms to the dark theme of the film.

The bleak film is a bit dragging in its latter stages after a few suspenseful scenes have elapsed. It also puts the police in a bad light since it is strictly due to their ineptitude that they are unable to catch the serial killer who was right in front of their noses. As a killer, Neuhart is cunning and cautious. Surely, there might have been times he was careless yet as an investigator he doesn't really go out of his way to hide 'evidence. Granted that during that period, the gathering of forensic evidence was not hi tech especially in a small town like Oise but still it is puzzling it took them over a year to arrest him. 

The only redeeming value of this strange film is the brilliantly convincing performance of its lead actor, Guillaume Canet. The ex husband of German actress Diane Kruger and the current partner of French actress Marion Cotillard looks like a younger version of American actor Patrick Dempsey. As Neuhart, his boyish face hardly expresses any emotions. Stoic yet very calculating. His calm demeanor is very creepy as his contained anger can just spin out of control, out of the blue. Alain Lamare, the real police officer upon whom this story is based is still incarcerated in a psychiatric ward.

The film starts with a disclaimer which states: "This film is based on one of the most strange French criminal stories. The facts described here are, for a large extent, taken from official documents, statements and talks with concerned people." Unfortunately despite this pronouncement, the film did not further delve into the psyche of the serial killer and it fell flat in trying to sustain the suspense factor to capture the viewers short attention span.

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