Monday, April 29, 2013

Iron Man 3 (Shane Black)

Stark realism.

At last, I was able to squeeze in "Iron Man 3" into my otherwise busy schedule partly because I cannot take the attention-whoring spoilers on social media anymore and also because, well, who wouldn't? Iron Man is, after all, our most beloved Avenger. He is the coolest billionaire on film outside Bruce Wayne. Hell, the film's about an egotistically charismatic guy in a robot suit. Who wouldn't find time for that? 

Unlike "Iron Man 2" which is quite unsure if whether it really wants to be an action-packed comedy or a brooding drama, "Iron Man 3", directed by Shane "I am Hawkins from Predator" Black, is a whole new monster. For me, this marks the first time that an Iron Man installment really feels more like a Tony Stark movie, and for good reason. 
The plot, although the usual science fiction/quasi-political mix, feels more fun than it has any right to be simply because the film is effective in being half-serious and half-camp. In this regard, we must give proper credit to Mr. Black, whose experience in character and chemistry-driven action movies (the "Lethal Weapon" franchise) has benefitted the film a hundredfold, not to mention that he has already directed Downey Jr. in the brilliant crime-comedy "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" alongside Val Kilmer. In short, "Iron Man 3", despite its unsurprising abundance of visual effects, feels a whole lot more grounded because we see a lot more of Tony Stark outside that pesky armor. This time, we don't see Stark as a mere alter-ego but as a believable action hero who just happens to own a robot suit or two. For all I care, the film could have easily been entitled "Tony Stark" and it will still appeal to the audience. This aspect is what makes "Iron Man 3" quite an innovation, execution-wise. We see Tony run around a lot like a bearded Sam Witwicky, wield service pistols and neutralize enemies with make-shift weapons, and it entertains because his trademark, all too human wit is admittedly at a better high when he's not suited up. 
For some, seeing Stark more often without the armor suit lessens the essence of what the film promises to be, but for me, it has even made the film a whole lot better. Well, of course, there's that big 'Iron Men' scene at the film's climax, but aside from that, there really isn't much time to bask on Iron Man's individual awesomeness. After all, this is a pained Tony Stark we're dealing with here both emotionally and physically, so seeing him all rusty and desperate, without much time to go all CGI Fonzie inside the suit, just fits the film's overall tone.
The performances, on the other hand, are quite great by superhero movie standards. Robert Downey Jr., after being the evident scene-stealer in "The Avengers", has once again proved that, well, he is currently the 'King of Cool' by giving what might be his best Tony Stark performance to date. Guy Pearce was also quite outstanding in his role as the villainous Aldrich Killian, whose performance mirrors that of Kevin Bacon's in "X-Men: First Class". But the real spark plug of a revelation here is Ben Kingsley, who's just, well, 'deceptive' in his portrayal of the Mandarin. Take my word for it: I think he's perhaps the biggest surprise of the year so far, and that's both a compliment and a slight dig.
Admittedly, "Iron Man 3's" trailers are really the most misleading things to come out for quite a while. At the time of the teaser materials' release, some have even speculated that Marvel, perhaps after seeing the success of "The Dark Knight" trilogy, has also finally decided to go all 'Nolan' on this installment. Instead, what the film has done was take just the right amount of insightful character psychology, throw it in with the staple explosiveness and fun that make Marvel films such a joy to watch, and mix well. The crucial part, naturally, is on the mixing. Unlike blockbuster filmmakers like Michael Bay and whoever made the G.I. Joe films, Shane Black has this certain, '80s 'buddy cop' feel in his directorial style which lifts "Iron Man 3" on a league of its own. I also loved how he used some narration (by Tony Stark) to tell the story on a more personal level, as opposed to the passive narrative technique of the previous two films. "Iron Man 3", despite its flaws and slight unevenness, has nonetheless hit the right notes. Off to a great start, Marvel's Phase 2 seems to be.

 photo 42.png

Monday, April 8, 2013

Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky)

Kelvin and Hari.

Considered by Andrei Tarkovsky to be the least favorite film that he has ever directed and is also lowly regarded by the source novel's author (Stanislaw Lem), "Solaris" is not quite the cinematic darling before than it was today. And if that is quite the case, that even the director himself is not that keen on singing praises about his own work, then who are we to like it more than the one who created it? But then I suddenly remember that I liked "The Virgin Spring" immensely: the film that Ingmar Bergman himself has also considered to be one of his weakest works. And damn, we all love "The Seventh Seal", a film that Bergman has labeled as nothing more than a 'lousy imitation' of Akira Kurosawa. Perhaps to really be a great artist, one must have an adequate dose of insecurity, because if one does not have any, then how can that artist properly discourse on the weakness of man (a most favorite topic to tackle among great filmmakers)? 
In this film's case, Tarkovsky himself, knowing that "Solaris" has not been powerful enough to transcend the science fiction genre, reflects what the film itself is all about: that man can never reach an ambiguous goal because it is something that he 'fears and doesn't want'; that man, whatever knowledge he may have, is but a minuscule detail in the whole thick of the universe, and that man, as he seeks intelligence, creates more confusion in the process. 
There has always been this preconceived notion that the vastness of space is indeed something that 'we can't fully understand'. But what if it's the one that wants to understand us? And what if it's just us who can't really comprehend ourselves? These are such questions raised by "Solaris", a masterful interstellar drama that tries to expound on the mysteries of the great beyond and, subsequently, of our very soul. What results is, bar none, one of the most emotionally articulate science fiction films ever conceived and also one of the most inquisitive.
The film's plot, perhaps the most linear and derivative of all Tarkovsky films, concerns a psychologist, named Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis), and his mission to find out what's really going on in a space station orbiting a mysterious oceanic planet. When he arrived, he found the crew emotionally disheveled, extremely worrisome and jumpy beyond belief. And to add to that, his already dead wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk), has suddenly materialized back into life. What's really going on?
Tarkovsky, a filmmaker who we all know is careful not to be limited by the mechanics of a specific genre, makes it sure that expository dialogue and special effects are kept at a minimum. In addition, his pacing is as deliberate as it can be. After all, he never went to space to visually showboat, to tell a lightning-fast story or to discuss mere technology; he's there to philosophize about humanity. 
Just like his later, very companion-y "Stalker", "Solaris" also operates under its own set of cerebral, emotional and physical rules. It's also less concerned on explaining things just like how a magician is never inclined on revealing the secrets of his trade. Mysterious plot devices, such as the 'Annihilator', are mentioned but not fully expounded upon. Characters' inner landscapes are further explored but never explained why. There's also a recurring sense of futility in the characters' numerous philosophical clashes. In the end, something may have been ostensibly resolved, but surely at a bitter cost. 
Andrei Tarkovsky, however challenging his works may be, is in fact a subtly didactic and optimistic filmmaker. Deeply submerged in existential despair his films may sometimes be, Tarkovsky never forgets to insert the idea that man can be better off if only he can know his limitations; if only he can be less grandiose in his ambitions; if only he can be aware of the fact that man only needs man. 
"Solaris", aside from being a meditative psychological drama, is also a timeless parable on humility. We've always been deluded by the idea that we're not alone in this universe and that, ultimately, we can make first contact with whoever they are or whatever it is. But as what this film suggests, such intention to see and know too much negates the very essence of existence itself.

 photo 52.png

Friday, April 5, 2013

It Takes a Man and a Woman (Cathy Garcia-Molina)


After the well-received "A Very Special Love" and the record-breaking "You Changed My Life", the much-lucrative romantic tandem of John Lloyd Cruz and Sarah Geronimo is finally back to once again rekindle the love story between rich hotshot Miggy Montenegro and the quirky Laida Magtalas, and people sure are elated. It also sure helps, anticipation-wise, that the film is widely accepted and believed to be the last one in the 'Miggy-Laida' movie franchise. But then again, I just want to remind you that, after all, this is Star Cinema we're dealing with here, so the next thing we know, we're watching Miggy and Laida, geriatric and all, inside a nursing home.
"It Takes a Man and a Woman", entitled so because it deals with the intrinsic essence of being a man and a woman in the context of love and also because, well, there's not much love songs left to choose from, is a rom-com film that capitalizes on the first two films' humor and one-liners too much that it ended up looking more like a rehash of its predecessors rather than a pure, standalone sequel. But thanks to Sarah Geronimo's infectious energy, the film's reliance on recycle humor has ironically proven to be one of the film's strongest points. After all, the movie is centered upon her character and on the humor that she endlessly churns out, so it just feels right for Ms. Geronimo to be a complete stand out among the rest, including even John Lloyd Cruz himself. But viewers beware: "It Takes a Man and a Woman" is a movie that can only be enjoyed by those who have already seen (and liked) the first two films. As for me who has always been slightly indifferent towards movies of this kind, I quite liked what I have seen. Although of course, typical for a Star Cinema feature, this one's got some issues too.
One of them is the fact that it has re-manufactured too much scenes from the first two films. Granted, the film, as what I have mentioned above, has been very conscious of what wonders recycling certain moments from its predecessors can do to elicit humor. But doing it too much can easily become quite a nuisance because one, it clogs the narrative with utter redundancy, and two, because it just goes to show that the screenwriters only have a few new things to offer.
I also hated how the movie has lazily resorted in using a thinly-written, blandly-realized character (played by Isabel Daza) as a momentary foil to the love team (Really? Aren't there any other options?). For me, with the Laida and Miggy characters being naturally repellant of each other (they are grudge-filled exes after all), the writers should have capitalized on that angle more and downplayed the surface level idea that they can't be together simply because there's an insubstantial third character involved. 
But despite of that deficiency, I loved how the movie has balanced work and play; that is, the film was able to mix the sentimentality and the humor without overcooking either. Well, let's just say that "It Takes a Man and a Woman" is the end product when we combine "A Very Special Love's" happy-go-lucky, abundantly comedic feel with "You Changed My Life's" more subtle dramatics.
But then, just when I thought that the film is quite walking the path of sun and breeze, the abominable final scenes came; scenes filled with globs and globs of sugar that even Willy Wonka would cringe. Suddenly, the balance that the film has maintained all throughout has suddenly vanished to give way to the utter glucose fest at hand. 
To be fair, "It Takes a Man and a Woman" is a very entertaining and well-realized crowd-pleaser, but for your own good, please do quietly walk out of the theater midway through the final 'airport' scene and calmly save yourself from the impending horror, for the final scenes are basically diabetes on celluloid.

 photo 32.png

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman)

A couple.

Originally aired on television as a six-part miniseries, Ingmar Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage" is an epic chronicle of the on and off marriage between Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann), two middle-aged professionals, and how their relationship, throughout the years, has transitioned from the superficial to the heavily conditional to the beautifully transcendental. 

The film, which is Ingmar Bergman's highly intelligent and realistic examination of the complexity of modern marriage, is, so far, the most honest and thorough 'marriage' film that I've ever seen. And thanks to the neutral emotional reality that the film has presented, I was able to watch the film objectively and without any gender-related predilections. The film, after all, is never about some sort of war between sexes. What "Scenes from a Marriage" is in fact all about is the idea that giving up on a marriage doesn't necessarily mean that you're also giving up on love. 

Sometimes, as what the film ironically and controversially suggests, to remove oneself from the conventions of a superficial marriage may result on love in a deeper context. Johan and Marianne, two romantic souls who initially thought that they have grown tired and contemptuous of each other and that they can be happy again in the arms of other people, have discovered, in a very hard way, that it's not each other that they are tired of but the mere shackles of their humdrum of a marriage; and that in the end, even though it's some other people they want, it's only each other that they truly need. 

Highly unusual for Ingmar Bergman, "Scenes from a Marriage" never delves into visual and thematic profundity perhaps because its ideas are expressed not through stunning images and moods but through spoken words. Even Sven Nykvist, known for his masterful, almost dream-like approach to cinematography, takes on a more urgent and simple style for this one. After all, with this project, it was Bergman's utilitarian intent to reach a wider audience, and indeed, he has succeeded; so much that he was ultimately forced to change his telephone number so as to avoid countless random calls from couples seeking marriage advice. 

As for the performances, it's but given for both Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson (both Bergman regulars) to deliver multifaceted performances that are as incendiary as they are tender. And although by no means am I saying that both Ms. Ullmann and Mr. Josephson are unattractive (Ullmann is in fact one of the most luminous faces in all of cinema), they have both embodied the personalities of the married couple in a way that they wouldn't care less on how they would look in a dingy pajama or in a business attire. Unlike other 'marriage' films nowadays where actors are chosen based on their looks and how their face values would help in endearing the story to the audience, which almost always results in disastrous alienation, "Scenes from a Marriage" begs to differ. By presenting Johan and Marianne in a very non-special way, both physically and emotionally (they were even branded as 'emotional illiterates'), the audience, with its television success as withstanding proof, were able to connect easily with the couple in all their vulnerabilities and imperfections. 

"Scenes from a Marriage", with its almost 3 hours running time, may prove to be quite infuriating to watch for some, especially because of the fact that it's a dialogue-driven, often visually static film. But do watch it for the performances, the energy and the insights. Believe me, it will be one of the most realistically introspective films you'll ever see about relationships and, ultimately, about love after marriage. This is Bergman channeling his inner marital therapist, and he does not disappoint.

 photo 52.png

Monday, April 1, 2013

Zerkalo (Andrei Tarkovsky)


Coming into Andrei Tarkovsky's "Zerkalo" with only "Stalker" in my 'already watched' list, I was caught by its stream-of-consciousness style with my tattered pants down. Well, I should have known, it is a Tarkovsky film after all. Indeed, "Zerkalo" is the kind of film that won't comfort you with its immediate meanings. Instead, what it will do is befuddle you with its visuals, floor you with its powerful, wisdom-infused poetry and, ultimately, help you reach your own personal epiphany. 
Although it is commonly viewed as one of Tarkovsky's most inaccessible films, I think I must beg to differ. Sure, it is a non-chronological, dream-like film, but it's not that hard to absorb. Sure, to comprehend it fully and come up with your own meaning, shot-per-shot, truly is a heavily analytical chore, but its essence, that of the lucid story of a man named Aleksei (a cinematic avatar of Andrei Tarkovsky himself) and his last-minute retreat to his fragmented memories, is not that hard to digest. In fact, with it being a most personal film by Tarkovsky, who are we to intervene with what he really means? Perhaps, "Zerkalo" has but a single, unifying definition, and perhaps it is only Tarkovsky who knows it deep inside, but the film, in all its lush visual glory, is very easy to associate with one's own experiences and with one's own life; if you had ever reflected upon your own existence, that is. 
In all fairness, "Zerkalo" can easily be accused of pretense, and maybe it is fair to say that it truly defies or even negates comprehension, and that, on a more esoteric note, we must first read about Russian history to really be at ease with the film. But, really, do you need textbook lessons when what's unraveling in front of you instantly connects on a personal level? I think not. Watch the film solely to decipher its meaning, and you may utterly be frustrated. But watch the film to purely reflect on its life-affirming visual poetry, and you will be rewarded a hundredfold.
After watching the film, there was a subtle lump in my throat, and my eyes seem to be on the verge of something. But was it tears? I do not know, and neither the sensation that I've felt at that very moment. Indeed, "Zerkalo" is unlike any film I've ever watched or experienced; it's also a film that can easily disprove certain things you thought you know about life. 
For starters, it's a film that's more than worthy of fervent celebration, and that Tarkovsky is worthy of praise not just as a filmmaker but also as a plaintive man who was able to look between the lines and present what may be the most honest reflection on war, the transience of time, and the briefness of life ever filmed, that of which can only be rivaled by Dalton Trumbo's earlier film "Johnny Got His Gun". Indeed, I was touched and I was affected, and the next thing I know, I was watching the film the second time in one night, and after wrapping up my second viewing, I was once again blown away, and I was also able to come up with my own sad interpretation of the whole film: That more than it is a film about a dying man's cerebral swan song, it is also about him coming to terms with a painful truth that has haunted him all his life: that he was, for a lack of a better term, an 'unwanted' child. 
The key scene to support my idea is the moment when Aleksei's mother (Margarita Terekhova) queasily walks away after seeing a sleeping little boy and then subsequently hearing the fact that the said boy's father and mother wants a little girl after all ("He put us up to a lot of trouble, little rascal," said the mother). In my view, she has walked away not just because she can't take in such an honest truth but also because she identifies herself with the same parental sentiment. Pay attention then at the final, heart-breaking scene (presumably a distant flashback) where she was asked by her husband if whether she likes a boy or a girl for a child. Unsure, anxious and on the verge of tears, she merely answered with an apprehensive smile. And then, we see her next as an old lady, walking through some dingy shrubberies with two children in tow, a boy (presumably Aleksei) and a girl. We see her walk hand-in-hand with the little girl, but we also see how obviously indifferent she is towards the boy, who merely trails behind. And as the camera pans slowly to the left (while zooming out) to show the path being tread by the old lady and the two children, we then see a mysterious man standing in the distance, staring intently at the three of them. 
Who is he supposed to be? In my perspective, it's the adult Aleksei, who can finally look at this particular scene of 'truth' (that his mother, after all, is apathetic towards his existence) without much hurt or hesitation anymore. The film, ultimately, is about a sort of emotional pain that can only be healed by confronting one's own memories, and by doing so, Aleksei has emotionally liberated himself. After all, the mirror that the film is pertaining to is in fact our most distant dreams and memories: two artifacts of the soul that we can stand in front of and look closely to so that we can examine what's wrong with ourselves, and the lives we have lived.   
"My purpose is to make films that will help people to live, even if they sometimes cause unhappiness," says Tarkovsky, who, in this film, has helped not just his audience but also himself. "Zerkalo" is heavy cinema, but just like any Tarkovsky films, the perceived heaviness of his films is most certainly followed by an unexpected episode of euphoria. I know, because I've felt it.

 photo 452-1.png 

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Ivan6655321's Schneider 1001 movies widget