Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rabbit Hole (John Cameron Mitchell)

The couple in grief.

Distressing emotions encapsulates "Rabbit Hole", a film adapted from a stage play about a couple dealing with the aftermath of their son's accidental death and its wheel boot-like effect to their ability to move on. Again, these are one of those films that, if handled carelessly, can easily drift into cheap melodrama. But "Rabbit Hole", with all its cinematic simplicity and believable performances delivered by Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman (an actress very much used in playing emotionally incapacitated housewives), it has carried itself as a film dealing with realistic situational emotions rather than a dramatic show-off.

I am in no possible position to expound myself and mutter solutions about the couple's grief in the film. Yes, standing from afar, looking in as a pseudo-caring outsider, one can give out emotionally hollow words to console the sufferers just for the sake of giving in to the idea of helping out. But as the film portrayed all the pain of letting go in the center of a suburban landscape, it will take more than friends and some group therapies: One needs to do it within, swat away the personal demons, and emerge from the titular 'rabbit hole' of despair anew.

Symbolically, it seems easy and we may see married couples who have lost their child having a constant smile on their face. I'm not heading into pessimistic territories here, but I think those who wears weary smiles are the ones who haven't got out of the symbolic hole completely. They can easily be those who have mutually decided to just live a clockwork existence based on half-meant acceptance. It may sound harsh, they may look happy, they may have reclaimed possession of a vehicle towards a fresh beginning, but the wheel boots are still on and they're not moving any further. But then again, as I have told, I'm in no position to tell of solutions, just plain, instinctive speculations.

For some, "Rabbit Hole", although a very simple film, may be emotionally too much, but the film supplied its own consolation to husbands and wives with the same emotional condition: 'One must think of a parallel universe'. That somewhere, amidst the sadness in one, everything's right and ideal on the other. Illusion it maybe, but it's a start.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Unstoppable (Tony Scott)

"Damn Ethan Suplee!"

Tony Scott/Denzel Washington action vehicle (with Chris Pine somewhere in the backseat) that inherited its tension and suspense from films likely to have gotten such factors from: Yes, you guessed right, "Speed" and "Die Hard". But this time, there's no lunacy-drowned Dennis Hopper or a smooth-talking but devious Alan Rickman to thwart, but a train of doom propelled into a certain explosive destruction via the incompetence of Ethan Suplee's character aka the 'indirect villain of the film'. The initial relationship between Chris Pine and Denzel Washington's characters was kind of a good-natured version of that in "Training Day". It mirrors Denzel's interaction with Ethan Hawke in the said film enough for me to anticipate him to convince Chris Pine to smoke a joint while they operate on some trains.

Do not get me wrong, their bond, though a bit pushed just for the sake of putting some emotional meat into the characters, is about to head into a very good chemistry. But because of the film's cliched characterizations, both of them transformed into, well, cardboard heroes engaged to save the artificial day once more. And as if implying our ignorance of some heavily complex machinery involving locomotives and railroads, director Tony Scott smartly inserted some perfectly detailed situational graphics and explanations on how the various plans would turn out. Disguised as media snippets. Yes. You reckon how reporters expound certain things to television viewers? That's how it is.

On a different note, I'm also at odds with certain emotions involved in the film, such as all the other characters, except the two leads, clapping and shouting ecstatic cheers ("You can do it, daddy!) every time Chris Pine dodges certain death or when Denzel Washington successfully jumps through tank cars. Come on, you're not watching televised sports. And while they're on the mood for that, they could have distributed some beers and placed bets. It should have sealed the deal for some maximum television entertainment.

And one other thing, as proven with an exclamation point and fully suggested by an epilogue title card, if you're an action movie character separated from your wife and kids and is living a meaningless existence, do something heroic. No, not helping an old lady cross the street. Not even saving a kid from a house on fire. To ensure tearful reconciliatory realization, stop an explosive train. And to regain your daughters' cheery attitudes, receive a kiss from Rosario Dawson. Now you see how paradoxical Hollywood can get in solving certain domestic problems? There's "Unstoppable" for you.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Age of Innocence (Martin Scorsese)

two people consuming the fruits of forbidden love.

Film Review Archive (date seen: January 4, 2011)

Once again, Scorsese leads us through places almost bound with secrecy, wrapped in customs, littered with hidden scandals, and the people that inhabits them whose mastery of conversations, socialization, and even dining were too great in its artificiality that they almost looked like performance acts. No, it's not the Italian-flavored crimeland we're talking about here, but 19th century New York where high society dwells on everything material and excessive, where moral righteousness is not a code to follow but more of a trend to fashionably don.

At first, I had doubts if Scorsese's known visual compositions really belong to such a type of film set in an era of restraint and conservatism. But with his combination of attention to details and an inclined exploratory viewpoint of the social class' amoral gutters amidst its elegant vanity, he used a distinct style (at times, darkening everything on screen but a smooth-edged circle to contain the main subjects, or even letting a character face the camera and speak of a potentially saddening letter with great joy and eagerness) to really fit the film's grasp of irony. Those who accuse Daniel Day-Lewis as a scenery-chewing hack will be utterly disproved in his performance in this film, using the fine attitudes of an obligatory gentleman to depict the numbered movements of an 1870's society male while maintaining his attachment with controlled subtlety. With this type of acting approach, Day-Lewis has able to internalize and show on screen his character Newland Archer's episodic implosions about his clamor for freeing himself from the bondage of his class' norms about love.

Though "The Age of Innocence" had its moments of beautifying high society's excessive lifestyles, Martin Scorsese and Edith Wharton's novel (from which the film was adapted) have successfully portrayed an escapist love surrounded by eyes of the self-righteous ones, the impossibility of its fruition, and the beauty of its acceptance. Living the life of grandeur may be like lying in a bed of roses, but the occasional thorns sure do hurt.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Love Actually (Richard Curtis)

Rowan Atkinson: a British comedian, an angel of love.

Film Review Archive (date seen: January 3, 2011)

Aptly taglined as 'The Ultimate Romantic Comedy', director Richard Curtis (of the "Blackadder" and "Mr. Bean" fame) and his exceptional ensemble cast certainly have enough to boast for and much love on their hands to show for it. I'm not a fan of rom-com films mainly because of its high percentage of probability to recycle ideas and be formulaic, but "Love Actually" really has a different mindset to accompany the romantic mosaic in the film: And that is its genuine optimism about love and its inseparable grasp of the human heart.

I can understand, in all of "Love Actually's" sugar-coated, almost flirting with fantasy tale of connected romances, why a hefty amount of critics disliked the film. But with this type of offering, packed with great writing, humor as sidings, and a cast of genuinely talented actors (take note, this is not a love team-carried, 'cute fest' rom-com film, dear reader), there's little to no chance that anyone would really have the enormous pride to hypocritically reject such.

"Love Actually" is, well, a celebration of love, the many hands of fate that distributes it to each and every one of us, and the emotional epiphany when it finally arrives. Some may be fruitful, some may bear otherwise, but after all, equal ration 'love' still was. In the end, the will to decisively act to follow it through is completely ours. But of course, the uncommon spirit of an incoming Christmas certainly helps.
Well, and a mysterious Rowan Atkinson cameo may also do wonders.


Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Jim Jarmusch)

The philosophical Ghost Dog, looking upon town, clenching his sword.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 31, 2010)

More or less, "Ghost Dog" is a slow-paced elegy about a man living his life based on an obsolete but absolute code. But with auteur Jim Jarmusch on the helm, it turned out to be something more, blending uncommon existentialist philosophies with themes such as racial generalization and the reality of living a life of crime.

The film is about an African-American hitman whose fascination with pigeons is far greater than his interest with human interaction. But he did have legitimate friends: A French-speaking Haitian he prefers not to understand and a naive little girl which he spends brief times conversing literature with. These tiny bits of characterizations may stand out as 'pretentious', but what us audience can understand about Ghost Dog and his world about to violently collide with change, add the fact that even a crime family can only afford overweight old-timers as henchmen, is that people like these are commonplace and the uncommon connection gathered by the eponymous character an urgency.

But above the symbolism and layered meanings beneath the enigmatic text from the 'Hagakure', Jim Jarmsuch's main consciousness and intent may still be to simply create a crime film that will challenge the norms of the genre and also to create a level of its own (pretty much like his unorthodox western film "Dead Man"). When I first saw this film on IMDb, I slightly (but subtly, mind you) laughed about the idea of Forest Whitaker (which delivered a great performance, nonetheless) as a Mafia-commissioned neo-samurai. But then again, with Jarmusch and his highly affluent cinematic mind, well, "why not?"


Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin)

Gru: The villain with megalomaniac plans and a paternal heart.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 30, 2010)

Good amalgamation of the usual colorfulness of the animated genre with the uncommon exploits of a villain (more of a larger-than-life thief really) named Gru, and the fact that he may not be as bad as what his reputation tells of. In terms of execution, "Despicable Me" do not have anything extraordinary to offer but the common 'change of heart' type of theme, but it surely does have its share of moments.

I'm impressed with the overall voice talents of this film, with the chief actors such as Steve Carell and Russell Brand not cashing in on their fame to just deliver a pedestrian, lackluster, 'do-you-recognize-this-voi
ce' type of performance; instead, they became the character, putting up unrecognizable, fairly ingenious voice alterations to accompany the visual looks of whoever they play. "Despicable Me" is a good (and funny) animated film overall, but it just did not hit the higher notes to maximize its entertainment value (unlike what "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" did).

What the film did was it relied too much on the 'cute' factor and the cliched interactions between the main characters, leaving the material's great potential still widely unfilled. I cannot say that "Despicable Me" is wholly inspired in its creation; but the concept surely is.


Boys Don't Cry (Kimberly Peirce)

Chloe Sevigny and Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry".

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 24, 2010)

What mainly affected me about "Boys Don't Cry" is it's great departure from the common stigmatic view of homosexuality in our society and instead focused all its succeeding events through the eyes of Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena, a delinquent who spends some of her days in constant transgressions, and majority of it dating unknowing women with her disguised as the opposite gender. Through this treatment, director Kimberly Peirce captured the essence of her existence more, an individual that may be conscious of her disguises to lure love into her, but unconscious of the buried truths of what and who she really is.

This was flawlessly played by Hilary Swank, whose utter devotion in playing the teen who lives a lie was too consummate that her initial immersion to the role even roots way back to her very audition. The supporting cast was particularly able and strong enough to carry the harrowing feel of the film, surrounding Brandon Teena's persona and her actions as critical pieces to either make or break her.

I completely sympathize with Brandon Teena's tragic fate, but I would not go around the web in complete justification of all of her actions. But even though she's done some things that aren't supposed to be done, she did not deserve any of what she has gone through, let alone the things that were inflicted to her. But that, as they say, is 'that'; our society is always fixated on casting the initial, judgmental stones to flawed individuals vulnerable enough to absorb all the pain.

Do not worry if this review (an essay about the film's themes, more like) offered any spoiling innuendos (at least to those interested in seeing the film), this isn't your ordinary cinematic hodge-podge. It just happens to be a film mirroring the genuine harshness of reality and the implications of people's lesser judgments. One must learn to deal with it, and also with the futility of the 'stone' we unconsciously carry all our lives.


The Town (Ben Affleck)

The experience-hardened, scary nun costume-wearing bank robbers in "The Town".

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 23, 2010)

Now, let's not be too hard on Ben Affleck. He indeed has already proved his worth courtesy of the impressive "Gone Baby Gone" (and not even mentioning his Oscar-winning "Good Will Hunting" writing stint). So at least for me, "The Town" is just a furthering proof that he's not just a directorial one-hit wonder.

In many ways, this film is the complete opposite of his previous directorial effort mentioned above. While the first raises complex questions about the moralities of actions (I've written a philosophical analysis about the film in my Humanities class), "The Town" is, more or less, armed with a plot that's nothing new in terms of its genre and contains bank heists more concerned about the heat of the moment than its consequences. But enhanced by Affleck's consistent handling to keep the film taut and armed with great performances particularly by Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively, the film maintained a compelling atmosphere throughout. The action sequences, as if it's not mentioned by others before, are quite reminiscent of the opening robbery scene in "The Dark Knight", which was of course inspired by Michael Mann's "Heat", so I think we're dealing with a two layer deep influence here.

I must admit that I'm surprised about the climactic pay-off though as I have not seen the trailer prior to watching this (only the disruptive internet ads), but it is nevertheless a great action set piece; yet another revelation for Affleck's behind-the-scene prowess: That he can also handle flipping trucks over and crashing cars under. I came to see "The Town" to be emotionally stimulated by the tale of a redemptive man of crime struggling to get out of a blue-collar hellhole. Yes, I've certainly got hints of that, but I've never expected the overwhelming dominance of some good old slam-bang action.


Mr. Nobody (Jaco Van Dormael)

Umm, will those stairs bring me to the end credits of this film?

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 22, 2010)

Very, very simple story about the impossibility of choice mixed randomly with pseudo-intellectual blabbering about life, time, and the complexities of the universe. All right, before someone out there clogs my brain with some mind channeling of such familiar lines as "You don't get the film's point", let this review speak for itself.

Of course, the visuals are very beautiful, 'too good' actually for a film with only a limited release. But eye-popping imagery, as how almost every film watchers out there will probably say, shall always be accompanied by a plot capable of grabbing one's attention for 2 or more hours; emotional and intellectual additions are absolutely sweet bonuses. That's a pretty simple rule of film engagement that "Mr. Nobody" has repeatedly ignored, wallowing itself in its timeline-circling, reality/illusion-breaking narrative, while we, alright, while 'I', sit on the opposite end of the screen always ready to support the film's emotional core, but "Mr. Nobody" looked like as if it prefers not to accommodate the viewers in its swollen intricacies. I would have liked the film's theme even more if it's handled by a more minimalist filmmaker because in that way, the emotions will always matter.

"Mr. Nobody" is an immensely extended music video that sings about the hardships of love, and about the difficulties of a universe heading into constant entropy. But as a film, it's a pretentious exercise of giving a statement about many things by saying patches about each, but never really materializing into one full, coherent sentence. There's a sequence halfway in the film where Nemo Nobody (Jared Leto) said something like: "Let's start back at the beginning". Well I have to say something, Mr. Nobody: "No, Thank you, I'm very much full".


Ip Man (Wilson Yip)

Fight scene.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 21, 2010)

('Yip Man' is the person, 'Ip Man' is the film, just so anyone who bothers to read this review may easily identify which is which)

Call it too propagandistic, call Yip Man's cinematic rendition overly romanticized, but this film is possibly one of the best martial arts films I've seen, both for its flawless fight choreography (by Sammo Hung) and riveting narrative. And yes, Screw "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" for its wires, Yip Man can cut them with a single swat.

Donnie Yen is very impressive playing the legendary title role, having the quiet capability of administering his authority and presence thoroughly felt even at the film's very beginning. Aside from being a medium for artful fistfights, "Ip Man" also treated martial arts as an engrossing cultural craze that stormed 1930's China as an unexpected fad among the higher class.

The film isn't just about the fictionalized exploits of a Wing Chun grand master formerly living in the shadows of his superstar apprentice that founded the Jeet Kune Do fighting system (you know who he is), but also an uncommon (though a bit honey-glazed, I must admit) exploration of unconditional Chinese patriotism in the midst of imperial occupation.

Before, if somebody mentions to me the name 'Yip Man', I'll immediately visualize a thin old man slowly and wearily sparring with Bruce Lee. But after watching this film, a martial arts demigod more or less.

(Note for those who have already seen the film: The image above is simply captioned 'fight scene'. Need I say more?)


The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano)

Absorbing the rain through blind eyes.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 20, 2010)

Being titled solely as "Zatoichi" (or "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi"), I'm actually quite surprised to the numerous story arcs that director (and star) Takeshi Kitano has instead put his focus on, turning the eponymous masseur into some sort of a natural force on the side rather than a vulnerable hero on the center of it all. Takeshi Kitano was quite good as the title role, and considering that he's the chief villain in "Battle Royale", his 180 turn (I can't say it's 360 as Zatoichi wasn't a full-blown romanticized hero) as the mysterious wandering swordsman was impressive.

The film's plot was very "Yojimbo-like", not just because of the warring gangs and all, but mainly because it's the main element that meagerly puts Akira Kurosawa's works before into slight criticisms as being "too western". There's not much danger in the fight scenes, as there's no need to really root for Zatoichi because we, the audience, already know that he'll always come out of sword fights unscathed and clean as an obsessive compulsive man on an extreme episodic fit (a little of a "Blackadder" hang-over on that particular simile). I'm also glad that there's a great amount of comic relief in the film because it might have gone a little too grim without some of the needed laughs.

"Zatoichi" was a good film and meritorious for not taking its violence too seriously, but yes, the fights were great, the laughs were spot-on, but do we really need that final dance sequence?


Unbreakable (M. Night Shyamalan)

Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson: Third time around.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 18, 2010)

Before M. Night "The Happening" Shyamalan became the laughing stock of cinephiles everywhere that he is today (enhanced courtesy of his live-action adaptation of the Avatar animation series), he was quite a capable filmmaker that has the uncommon touch of conveying emotional power.

Though his earlier film "The Sixth Sense" was the most renowned of all his works, for me, "Unbreakable" is the better film. Not only because it's a well-weaved tale of self-discovery, but also because it has brought the superhero mythos and all its undertones into a different territory. No, not into familiar grounds that consist of flying musclemen and villainous megalomaniacs, but into a complex observation of its ideas, its translation into an environment more grounded in reality, and its application to the two main characters' (played by Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson in their third film together) individualism and their search for existential meaning.

Yes, that may sound a tad too deep considering the conventionally immediate visualization (protagonists
wearing colorful tights and leotards) of the film's main theme. But director Shyamalan completely deconstructed those basic ideas, left important concepts into the film (such as the idea of a hero, a villain and the complexity of choice), and able to conceive a film that may look really familiar based on its initial elements, but a whole new exploration in its entirety.

"Unbreakable" is not about heroism nor villainy; it's a film about motives and decisions within that ultimately define who we really are.


Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson)

Running, running, and more running.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 18, 2010)

Granted, the opening sequence of barefoot, white-clad men running on the shores with that immortal Vangelis musical score (a piece that has since been the companion music of the Olympics) is a great "spirit-soaring" image, but after that, only a few parts of the film really did caught my interest.

I have nothing against "Chariots of Fire's" slow pace, I even generally prefer it more. But its build-up of an uninvolving story of two runners on different sides of the religious spectrum and competing for different principles is too redundant for a 2-hour film, let alone to carry the whole picture into a Best Picture Oscar. Furthermore, the opening scene that showed some of the athletes as old men then quickly dissolving into a flashback is a tiring cliche commonly seen on award-chasing films (usually with the award-giving body letting itself be chased and caught. Ha.).

"Chariots of Fire", again with its opening sequence, promised a great story of determination and to make competitive running as a symbolism of overcoming obstacles. But what it has done, having all the time in the world, was to turn that tale of men with a passion for sprinting into a film a lot slower than a leisurely walk in the park. And considering the intensive sport focused throughout the film, it lacks the narrative urgency to perform a compelling run for a memorable finish. Derek Redmond's tear-inducing Olympian effort affected me more.


Serbis (Brillante Mendoza)

Familial reality amidst immorality.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 12, 2010)

I have to say that Brillante Mendoza’s “Serbis” is slightly better than his more renowned (and at the same time, denounced) “Kinatay”. In some ways, “Serbis’” cinematography, acting, and subplots were the collective product of what could be Brillante’s personal vision of Philippine society and familial relations that has been distributed rationally to his other earlier films: “Tirador’s” biting humor, “Kaleldo’s” character interactions and mild sepia cinematography, the escalating darkness that his later film “Kinatay” has embarked on, and even “Masahista’s” literal sexuality.

The ensemble cast was also very impressive in their uncanny degree of suppressing any screen inhibitions, be it about showing their skin, or acting as a credible, functioning family while immersing themselves into the decaying backdrop of a filthy ‘bold’ theater. It was almost unbelievable for the whole cast to pull off such a film without going as far as the extremities Nagisa Oshima has reached and the cost of what cinematic taboo he had broken to show a sociopolitical allegory. Brillante Mendoza has also able to incorporate his usual fascination of religious traditions; imageries that might have been inserted just for the sake of it, or can also be visual antidotes to the sinful displays on his films.

Notable performances were by Gina Pareno as the theater-inhabiting family’s matriarch, and Julio Diaz as the awkwardly unknowing husband of Nayda (played by Jaclyn Jose). It’s just refreshing to see a film that has brought a pitiful place such as a decaying ‘bomba’ moviehouse into cinematic life (a place whose only common attribution is to “Imbestigador”), put it in the center of a neorealist drama, and let its pathetic and dissident inhabitants dwell on the establishment’s sleazy imperfections; an uncanny likeness to their own lives indeed.


The Girl Who Played with Fire (Daniel Alfredson)

The Girl with a dark past which haunts her in the present.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 11, 2010)

Just when I thought things got a little better for Mikael and especially for Lisbeth in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, things started to get rougher in this gritty, though a bit laid back second installment in the “Millennium” trilogy.

As far as the narrative is concerned, there’s no connection whatsoever between the chief mystery in the first film with this one, but there’s also little exposition here involving characters such as Bjurman and Zala. So although “The Girl Who Played With Fire” is still a good watch all on its own, it’s further recommended to really watch the first film to really let the eponymous character, her relationship with journalist Mikael, and her inner struggles sink in unto one’s viewing consciousness. What’s exceptional in this film is its great maintenance of its thrill factor, letting the visuals and visceral sequences speak for itself, with just hints of musical scores to accompany them without any overkill.

I have to say that plot-wise, in the tradition of all the other twisty thriller films, I prefer “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” more. But this film’s revelation of Lisbeth Salander’s wounded past, albeit with some soap opera-like feel in its unraveling, is nonetheless still very compelling. Mikael Blomkvist is in pure journalist mode in here though, so do not expect a chase sequences or two from him.


Minority Report (Steven Spielberg)

Tom Cruise: jumping futuristic cars and anticipating crimes.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 11, 2010)

“Blade Runner”, “Total Recall”, and now “Minority Report”. Philip K. Dick’s alternative view of dystopia and the condition of future society has influenced modern filmmakers. From cyberpunk films to neo-noir-ish treatment of the sci-fi genre, his works have, although its scientific ideas were not entirely plausible, in some ways, churned up visions that might as well be prophetic and relevant to both our world’s current technological advancements and present state of morality.

Fresh from his work on the Kubrick-conceived “Artificial Intelligence”, Steven Spielberg then tried to merge his own visions with Philip K. Dick’s, and the result is “Minority Report”, quite possibly one of the best sci-fi films of our generation. I’ve always preferred sci-fi films not delving into much computer-generated overkill, but in this case, I have to make an exception. Because although Spielberg is quite well-known as a visual baroque, this film is less a flamboyant display of futuristic computer-altered images than it is an effective portrayal of a ‘perfect’ system that is really not what it seems to be. Tom Cruise is great as John Anderton, mixing his past experiences with hard action films with emotional depth and some mild black comedy (in the eye transplant scene, with the exceptional Peter Stormare).

Paralleling Max Von Sydow’s character’s surname (Burgess) with “A Clockwork Orange’s” author, both works deal with the same subject matter. And though a bit different in substantial attack, have clamored for one common, irreversible fact: That ‘crime’ cannot be prevented by the repression of human nature. Its solution lies within one’s own “choice”. An outstanding film that meritoriously worked on a cerebral level, but also did not falter on its entertainment value.


Bruno (Larry Charles)

Sacha Baron Cohen back to his good ol' shenanigans.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 8, 2010)

It was 2006 and I'm in high school when I've first watched "Borat" and liked it very much as I haven't seen anything quite like it before. "Borat's" satirical and distorted view of America in the eyes of an innocent Kazakh reporter was very original and rather quite repulsive that I knew by that period of time that nothing will surpass its extreme displays of political incorrectness and offensiveness.

Then fast forward to 2009, masterminds Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles conceived yet another "shockingly hilariously shocking" (yes, I'll put 'shocking' into repetition) persona in the fashion-clad guise of Bruno, a mock Austrian homosexual reporter bent on becoming world famous, find out the ropes of how to become one, and tread sensitive issues such as terrorism, race and the virtue of sexual preferences among others.

"Bruno" may not be necessarily better than "Borat"; I even thought that I can nitpick what's scripted from what's not quite easily. But "Bruno's" satire, although very graphic in nature, encompasses wider subjects, dealt with them with sharpness and straight-to-the-point vulgarities that it came out as a fuller film to properly convey Baron Cohen's twisted comic vision of this world: A place filled with self-righteous euphemisms
, pseudo-ideal sanctions and infested with hypocrisy.

One memorable scene though, the scene where Bruno (or Straight Dave) had an explicit reconciliation with Lutz, his assistant's assistant, in a UFC-like arena to the tone of "Titanic's" "My Heart will Go on". It's just ironic that a theme song of one of the most memorable heterosexual love stories on film is used as a musical backdrop of a not so subtle display of homosexuality. Only Sacha Baron Cohen has the outright guts to put all of this on celluloid, stay in character as long as it takes, and release it 'mainstream'. Get it. 'Mainstream'. Risky as hell.


Sea of Love (Harold Becker)

An awkward relationship.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 8, 2010)

Though it's the main motif of the film, the title "Sea of Love" was quite misleading when I first saw it, as it sounds more like an ideal title for a romantic pocket book than for a mysterious thriller. Al Pacino is obviously comfortable in playing the cop protagonist, a common role that he would soon portray heftily after this film's release, squeeze out from it memorable performances after another, and put it end on end as the polar opposite of his gritty gangster roles.

"Sea of Love" has a very good first-half that flowed so effortlessly (with the help of the very entertaining John Goodman) I haven't even noticed that I'm already halfway done. But the latter part which involved the plot's main revelation is quite predictable, not because of flawed writing, but by a critical casting choice that pretty much gave the film away. (SPOILERS) I have nothing against Michael Rooker, but come on, this actor garnered immense cult fame by playing Henry Lee Lucas in "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer". Would you really expect him to just play a naive, good-natured witness in a bit part? The killer instinct in his eyes that gave me nightmarish jitters while watching "Henry" suggested that he would certainly not.

Richard Jenkins is quite good as the subdued Gruber (way before anyone even thought of mentioning his name and 'Oscar nominee' in the same sentence), and a then-unknown Samuel Jackson as a criminal attending the "Meet the Yankees" breakfast, almost two years before his head was blown off by Joe Pesci in "Goodfellas".


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise their roles in Richard Linklater's more contemplative follow-up to "Before Sunrise".

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 7, 2010)

Now here's a sequel made not because it has a new or unique story (I believe within the ratio of chances that the love story in the two films can really happen) to tell, but because of the natural ease of conversational exchanges and spontaneous sarcasms between Jesse and Celine, two characters that many people have loved so much that it has inspired its makers (including stars Hawke and Delpy) to urgently tell what happened and what could have been in a happenstance meeting 9 years later in Paris.

By the summary of the film, it's already given that their promise to meet on a train station in Vienna was particularly broken by either one of them. So as if fate has brought them to the city of love itself, "Before Sunset" is the center stage for their reunion, to measure up how they've changed, physically, emotionally, and even politically, while at the same short amount of time, contemplate all the 'what if' scenarios that could have been brought into their lives if the promise they've kept to see each other again was fulfilled. Justify Full
If "Before Sunrise" is a definitive love story film for young lovers, "Before Sunset" is a matured observation of love, marriage, and no, not mid-life crisis (as what could have been expected in a sequel conceived 9 years after the first part), but about the contemplative spirit of a fateful night in the streets of Vienna that has might as well half-filled all the passions and perfect dreams Jesse and Celine ever had, and how another moment, even in a tranquil afternoon in Paris, is sorely necessary not just to pick up the pieces, but to piece out the fragments that surely could have been a lasting love. It may not be enough to fill up the other half, but it is, after all those years of neutral existence, a reassurance that they still can.


Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater)

The Vienna connection.

Film Review Archive (date seen: December 2, 2010)

"Before Sunrise" is a romance film pretty much unaffected by spoilers of any type, not because of any complexities that are involved in the story, but because the start and end of this unexpected love found in the most compatible of places are already given; what mattered most and further emphasized was what happened in between.

Richard Linklater and Kim Krizan has inserted impressively ingenious dialogues, ranging from brief philosophical views about life and death to trivial matters such as fortune-telling and even the cliches of male fantasies. But through this, director Linklater has able to weave both a gentle poem about the beauty of love and a valid question of "how long does it really take to consider 'love' as a transcendental one?" Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are both natural and genuinely affecting as Jesse and Celine, two people who had the greatest chance encounter of their lives but with not enough time in their hands.

"Before Sunrise" may not be the most aesthetically-excellent romantic film, but it surely is one of the most satisfying expositions of a love threatened to be hindered by the absolute reality of time, but exceeded it with both people's urgency to feel and connect, brought about by the unconscious push of a ticking clock, a scheduled flight back to America, and a train ride to Paris. "One night may suffice." That may be Richard Linklater's answer to the aforementioned question above.


The Edge (Lee Tamahori)

Survival in the jungle and against each other.

Film Review Archive (date seen: November 29, 2010)

Intense wilderness adventure anchored by strong dual performances by Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, respectively. During my childhood (or at least from what I recall), I always hear about "The Edge's" inclusion of a grizzly bear and how impressive the animal's sequences were. That particular claim is certainly true, and believe it or not, without the abominable presence of the bear, the film's impact, in my opinion, would not have been that effective.

Yes, "The Edge" is really about how an extramarital affair and its psychological implications would translate into the primitive idea of survival in the wilds, but ironically enough, it's also about an unexpected friendship found in that irreversible circumstance, especially for it to develop from two people with contrasting personalities and coming from different social status. The bear fight sequence is the film's center piece, heightened by exceptional editing, intense musical score and, well, credible performance from "Bart the bear".

Timothy Treadwell (see "Grizzly Man") should have seen this film, because although "The Edge" is a purely cinematic treatment of the characteristics and behaviors of a grizzly bear, it must have been enough to prove his prolonged eccentric immersion with the animals to be a very grave impossibility, at least in terms of whether or not the bears would see him as a caring 'friend' or a 'food' within reach.


Doctor Zhivago (David Lean)

Omar Sharif and Julie Christie in David Lean's epic "Doctor Zhivago".

Film Review Archive (date seen: November 28, 2010)

I'm never much aware of Russian history especially the time of Lenin, so I watched "Dr. Zhivago" partly so I may get some immediate knowledge about the Bolsheviks and the Communist wave in Russia. But David Lean, always the master of substantial scale, treated the revolution and turbulence not as important political details but merely circumstantial forces of nature to cloud and test the real center of the film: That of Yuri Zhivago's (Omar Sharif) life and love.

Unlike Lean's previous protagonists which were enclosed with moral and personal ambiguities (Col. Nicholson and T.E. Lawrence), Zhivago is a fairly straightforward man. A principled doctor who's always ready to help within his ability, and though not invulnerable to hardships, always carries them with a teary-eyed smile. "Doctor Zhivago", aside from a strong lead by Omar Shairf, is also littered with heavyweight performances by Klaus Kinski, Alec Guinness and especially Rod Steiger as Komarovsky.

"Doctor Zhivago" was trashed and denounced by critics upon its first release (which of course learned from their mistakes). But through the years, it has since been hailed as a cinematic "treasure" and of significant importance to the art of films. It may just be a playful coincidence, but the film's initial critical reception was a great parallel to Yuri Zhivago's life: Once invaded, halted and violated by the turmoil inflicted by the sudden revolution, but went on and able to create love and leave a lasting mark to those who knew him.

"Doctor Zhivago" is littered with sequences of immense magnitude, but they're merely treated as backdrops, as Lean, armed with Boris Pasternak's strong material and his firm belief that individual human emotions must never take the backseat for the sake of pure pageantry, created another picture that strengthened the fact that if a filmmaker wants to know the blueprints of a fine epic film, there's no other place to look further into than David Lean's body of work.


Awakenings (Penny Marshall)

Veterans Robert De Niro and Robin Williams in "Awakenings".

Film Review Archive (date seen: November 24, 2010)

There's always a recurring belief in Hollywood among actors that once you played an impaired character on film, then one can already consider him/herself "made". Honestly, that's what I initially thought of "Awakenings", a sentimental film that will do nothing but to put one of the missing pieces of De Niro's more than impressive resume' into place; oh, how wrong I was.

Though his performance was great, it was his sense of belonging among the other encephalitis-stricken characters that made the portrayal so absorbing. To a more flamboyant performer, he could have easily stole every single scene with some scenery-chewing moments. But De Niro, having to do justice to such a critical character, has carried himself with methodical devotion as Leonard Lowe. Going into great lengths to show the physical sufferings of an encephalitis victim, but also hinting, with subtle motions and glances, the depths of the characters' heart and the reaches of his mind that was enclosed inside a physical limbo for 30 years.

But the best performance came from Robin Williams (though not nominated for an Academy Award) as the socially awkward Dr. Sayer, whose characterization started in the middle but ended on something to begin with. My tears, tested by the span of years I've been watching films, are quite adamant to sentimental displays on screen. But this one, since "Letters from Iwo Jima", I think, finally persuaded them to just trickle down in peace. Although based on a true story, I will always think of the film's "awakenings" as a symbolic series of inner defiance, brought forth by the indomitable power of the human spirit struggling against the shackles of physical invalidity.


The Dirty Dozen (Robert Aldrich)

The 'Dozen', plus Lee Marvin's looming presence.

Film Review Archive (date seen: November 21, 2010)

An iconic and unforgettable war film, not because it has any sentimental message to send, but because of its sheer high-powered action, unforgettable characters, and a charismatic Lee Marvin as the tough Major Reisman. One can easily see its untainted influence across the years prior to its release, from modern 'ensemble' war films tackling different conflicts, to a masterful Tarantino homage in the form of "Inglourious Basterds".

Before watching the film, I've read the plot summary and saw derogatory adjectives such as 'losers' and 'lunkheads' on one side, with some atrocious descriptions like 'rapists' and 'murderers' on the other. I wondered, "how did Robert Aldrich pulled it off and squeezed out some form of heroism from these unlikable characters?" Then, while I watch the film, it occurred to me like a revelation, that all the negativity are all just paper-bound. Halfway through the film, the supposed 'death and hard labor-sentenced' criminals became even more likable than the actual military officers. Donald Sutherland is excellent in his precursor performance to his immortal Hawkeye in "MASH", Telly Savalas is great as Maggot, and Charles Bronson, arguably the king of cool next to Clint Eastwood, is, well, 'cool' as the German-speaking Wladislaw.

The developments, trainings, and comic reliefs proved to be very effective as a build-up to the literally shattering climax, with the team-affirming 'war game' as the film's best sequence. Though "The Dirty Dozen" is an action film urging audiences to cheer with the Major Reisman-led team, the final attack at the chateau, with the Germans trapped in the bomb shelter, proved to be an adequate slip-in commentary regarding the horrors of war.


The Guns of Navarone (J. Lee Thompson)

The bunch.

Film Review Archive (date seen: November 18, 2010)

I've grown up always hearing about this film, and how impeccably masculine it was. So, aside from the two female characters, it really is one of the iconic pictures to ever put a stamp on the "recruited men on a mission" sub-genre of war films. It appealed to me immensely how effective the opening narration is (seems like "Fargo"), making us believe, with that voice tailor-made for telling tall tales, how perilous the "Navarone" mission was, only then finding out that it's all a work of fiction courtesy of adventure novelist Alistair Maclean.

Though it's quite hard to view Gregory Peck as a British, he, aided by his personality, physical features and his pure cinematic presence, has ably passed as a believable leader of the bunch. As for the others, headed by Anthony Quinn and David Niven, they have created great chemistry among contradicting characters; an ingredient very much common for the sub-genre nowadays but was initially sparked by the influential Kurosawa classic "Seven Samurai".

There were some sequences that contained unsure, half-cooked editing, but with this film heading for an ending as anticipated and explosive (though not as morally puzzling) as the one in "The Bridge on the River Kwai", these slight blunders were easily eclipsed by the film's more exciting moments.

"The Guns of Navarone" is one of those blockbuster war films that has carried its sense of high adventure and action consistently while maintaining its grasp on 'morality' and a pacifist message that tells about how war can put it into 'ruins', like how their mission will wreak destruction on the eponymous weapon, and a parallel to the ancient remnants of its Greek backdrop.


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