Angels and Demons Movie Review: The Suspenseful Novel Becomes an Audio-visual Flair
With the kind of plotting and the pretty good utilization of the medium for the novel, translating it into a two-hour audio-visual flair is really a tough path to take.
Angels and Demons Movie Review: The Suspenseful Novel Becomes an Audio-visual Flair
Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood is a sweeping epic complete with spectacle and pageantry; yet, it collapses into an epic cliché. With its elaborate plotting unable to live up to the roaring fires and engaging fights, it merely lingers around like a topnotch archer drinking buckets of mead, then expectedly fails to hit the crucial mark. At the least, it hits the edge of the target through its noteworthy performances and production values.
It could have been a tighter cinematic offer instead of being a two and a half-hour story of a few hits and lots of misses. The action part is considerably fine, but the drama part fails. While there are a few intelligent and bull’s eye moments between the talented Russell Crowe as Robin Longstride/Robin Hood and her equally talented partner Cate Blanchett as Marion Loxley that work, the very essence of this Robin Hood story has a lot of dead spaces and pointless name-checking. Its salvation is how it manages to keep the action up and running within its well-mounted set pieces; thus, making it a “beautiful bore” to some, a “just fine” compromise to casual moviegoers and Robin Hood aficionados, or a “just another hollow adaptation” to the rest who felt they got robbed money from movie tickets.
Scott’s spin on the classic Robin Hood yarn turns the familiar old English legend into a serious gritty and grubby lesson in 13th century British history. This time, he and his usual Oscar-winning crewmates turn the familiar swashbuckling bandit of Sherwood Forest into a serious story focusing on the man behind the legend. It works like a sort of a prequel on how the legend came to be. It attempts to explain the earlier life of Robin Hood by stripping away the fantasy from the myth and making his story more like a societal lesson and a historical exposition. It seems to aim higher than all these, but it lacks the needed depth to transcend the intended character study into a more valuable piece of cinematic work.
Robin Hood is filtered through all the trademark requirements of a summer blockbuster. It has good cuts, camera movements and engaging sound. Scott is at his best with the action sequences; yet, he is unable to put enough dimensionality to the characters, amidst the solid acting performances. The robust script from Brian Helgeland has a sense of struggle in it. The climactic battle sequence is another technical saving grace amidst some overstuffed and ill-conceived moments.
On the positive side, the sense of epic sweep and detailed grounding of the film’s intentions make the uneven pacing work on a basic entertainment level. John Mathieson’s cinematography effectively relives the medieval setting and English countryside feel. The wealth of well-researched period details from production designer Arthur Max keeps the movie appealing.
The film has a strong ensemble that lodges well within the Middle Age setting. The cast of veteran actors and actresses including the supporting cast Max von Sydow as Sir Walter Loxley, William Hurt as William Marshal and Mark Strong as Godfrey maintain the serious mood befitting the director’s treatment. However, some scenes tend to inappropriately have accents wandering all over England.
For its specific merits, Robin Hood is one entertaining material. This story about the English philanthropic outlaw is still a watchable fare to the non-demanding viewers. It is technically a handsomely made movie that reworks the traditional characters of the legend into the world of real people. Its production reins over the story, though. And if not for the “too much of this and not enough of that” issue, the solid performances, rousing action sequences and impressive style could have made it a much interesting piece of cinematic wonder.
Robin Hood Movie Review: Bull’s Eye Action but Miles of Missed Storytelling
Robin Hood is a sweeping epic complete with spectacle and pageantry; yet, it collapses into an epic cliché.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Movie Review: Masterful, Moody, and Magnificent
This sixth installment in the Harry Potter film franchise is of the right mix for the specific needs of the story. It is never dumb and yet it is not pretentiously profound. It is smart as it is honest. It is dark as it is funny.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Movie Review: A Dark, Adolescent Potter Film
Darker, a little more mature, and a little less magical, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire deals primarily with rejection and hormones as Harry and his friends struggle through the transition from childhood to young adulthood.
Cinemanila Celebrates Its 11th Year with Topnotch Local and International Film Picks
By Rianne Hill Soriano
The annual Cinemanila International Film Festival celebrated its 11th year last Oct. 15 to 25, 2009 at the Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. 10 days of films, master classes, seminars, parties, and even reunions for many filmmakers, artists, and cinephiles… It has considerably become a part of their daily routine throughout the duration of the festival.
“Moving Forward with Moving Images.” Young as it is and still facing a number of challenges and tough times, Cinemanila is best known for the good films it shares to the Filipino audience every festival season – a mix of both local and international picks from the freshest and most promising to the well-renowned and critically-acclaimed.
Around 100 international and local films were screened – from the current toasts of the local independent scene to the award winners and favorites at prestigious festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Rotterdam, Sundance, and Pusan.
Apart from being known for its good programming of top films from all over the world, another good part of Cinemanila is that it tries to expand itself as much as it could – which then makes itself reaching out to more people. From the outdoor screenings to the 1st Cinemanila Machinima Film Festival to the Sine Barangay project, these are valuable ways to expose more people, especially those who don’t usually get to watch art-house films, to such cinema experiences.
The parts still needing improvements mostly fall under the major concern of festival budget and funding. Market! Market! and Bonifacio High Street were definitely wonderful places to situate the festival in. However, there was just one major concern for the general audience – they were not very accessible to local public transport especially to those students and working cinephiles who would have to brace rush hour traffic with mostly expensive taxi rides in order to catch their film picks at the festival. And yet, on the brighter side, it’s truly interesting to note that the local government of Taguig has welcomed Cinemanila in their progressive city this year. Personally, I felt the kind of support the Taguig government provided for the festival. In fact, if not for the transportation issue that a number of people were not able to attend due to inaccessibility of direct public transport as MRT, LRT, jeepneys, and buses from major points/work places/schools, things were then developing rather smoothly for the festival. Perhaps, this could be one major concern that festival and the city government should attend to next time – maybe by utilizing The Fort buses with effective dissemination of pick-up points to the people intending to go the festival from work places and schools, and also maybe having additional cinemas and/or outdoor screenings near these places through the help of both private institutions and other local government units. It’s about making Cinemanila a part of the subculture of the Pinoys during this time of the year – with it being customary for them to see such great films from all over the world through the festival. And we can definitely do it if we work together and support one another to make our very own Cinemanila International Film Festival a part of our valuable events to look forward to every year.
As we acknowledge all these growth and learnings, with such a young but promising international film festival by the Filipinos, we should be proud of all these efforts. Every year, we get to see these esteemed films and acknowledge the filmmakers behind them, and we also meet such inspirational people from the industry both in the local and international scenes. Kudos to Cinemanila, the filmmakers, and the Cinemanila audience!
Highlighting the 11th Cinemanila are films including:
Opening Film – Lola by Brillante Mendoza (Philippines)
Closing Film – Himpapawid (Manila Skies) by Raymond Red (Philippines)
Jury Members – Brillante Mendoza, chair (Philippines); and Eric Sasono (Indonesia)
Cheng Du, I Love You by Fruit Chan (China)
Hunger by Steve McQueen (UK)
Independencia by Raya Martin (Philippines)
Mammoth by Lukas Moodysson (Sweden)
Machan by Uberto Pasolini, (Italy/Sri Lanka)
Milk of Sorrow by Claudia Llossa (Peru)
Pandora’s Box by Yesim Ustaoglu (Turkey/France/Germany/Belgium)
Ricky by Francois Ozon (France)
Samson and Delilah by Warwick Thornton (Australia)
Tony Manero by Pablo Larrain (Chile/Brazil)
Tulpan by Sergey Dvortsevoy (Kazakhstan)
Digital Lokal (Philippines)
Jury Members – Sonja Heinen, chair (Germany); In-Seong Yoo (Korea); Sherad Anthony Sanchez (Philippines)
Anacbanua by Christopher Gozum
Biyaheng Lupa by Armando “Bing” Lao
Ang Beerhouse by Jon Red
Dolores by Lito Casaje
69 1/2 by Ted Manotoc
Iliw by Bona Fajardo
Adam Resurrected by Paul Schrader (USA)
A Year Ago in Winter by Caroline Link (Germany)
Baby Doll Night by Adel Adeeb (Egypt)
Black Dynamite by Scott Sanders (USA)
Broken Embraces by Pedro Almodovar (Spain)
Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino (USA)
Let the Right One In by Tomas Alfredson (Sweden)
I Come with the Rain by Anh Hung Tran (Vietnam/USA)
My Suicide by David Lee Miller (USA)
Leonera (Lion’s Den) by Pablo Trapero (Argentina/Korea)
A Matter of Size by Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor (Israel)
Beautiful by Juhn Jaihong (Korea)
Call If You Need Me by James Lee (Malaysia)
Caramel by Nadine Labaki (Lebanon)
Engkwentro by Pepe Diokno (Philippines)
Jeonju Digital Project 2009: Visitors (Korea, Japan, Philippines)
Little Zizou by Sooni Taraporevala (India)
Macabre by Mo Brothers Indonesia/Singapore)
My Magic by Eric Khoo (Singapore)
Non-ko by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Japan)
Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman (Israel)
Passion by Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Japan)
Young Cinema Competition (Philippines)
Jury Members – Tan Chui Mui, chair (Malaysia); Kong Rithdee (Thailand); and John Torres (Philippines)
Dalaw by Janus Victoria
Harang by Mikhail Red
Ito ang Gabing Babalikan Kita Pagkatapos ng Tatlong Taon nang Hindi Maiiyak at Masasaktan by Antoinette Jadaone
Limang Libo by Ice Idanan
Save Me!!! by Ramon del Prado
Stations by Emmanuel Quindo Palo
To Siomai Love by Remton Siega Zuasola
Young Cinema Exhibition (Philippines)
The Artist Is In by Marcus Adoro
Ang Ibig Sabihin ng ‘OK Lang’ by Ryan Nikolai Dino
Gemini by Leo Valencia
Gusto Kong Lumipad by Glenn Ituriaga
Irene F**king Jordan by Paolo Herras
Karoler by Michael Angelo Dagñalan
Technophilia by Rianne Hill Soriano
Waiting Shed by Ely Buendia
SEA (Southeast Asia) Film Competition
Jury Members – Ronnie Lazaro (chair); Joel Shepard (USA); and Bee Thiam Tan (Singapore)
Adrift by Thac Chuyen Bui (Vietnam)
Bakal Boys by Ralston Jover (Philippines)
Here by Ho Tzu Nyen (Singapore)
Jermal by Ravi Bharwani (Indonesia)
Karaoke by Chris Chong (Malaysia)
A Moment in June by O Nathapon (Thailand)
Talentime by Yasmin Ahmad (Malaysia)
Woman on Fire Looks for Water by Woo Ming Jin (Malaysia)
SEA Shorts Competition
Uwan Init Pista sa Langit (Philippines) by Remton Siega Zuasola and Keith Deligero
Focal Point (Malaysia) by Alizera Khatami & Ali Seifourri
Rat (Malaysia/Taiwan) by Lau Kek Huat
Outing (Singapore) Jow Zhi Wei
Sea Horse (Indonesia) by Shalahuddin Siregar
SEA Shorts Exhibition
Lakad ni Sammy (Philippines) by Joel P. Ruiz
Love Suicides (Malaysia) by Edmund Yeo
It’s Not Raining Outside by Yosep Anggi Noen
The 11th Cinemanila awardees are:
Best Actor – Alfredo Castro in Tony Manero (Chile/Brazil)
Best Actress – Tsilla Chelton in Pandora’s Box (Peru/Spain)
Grand Jury Prize – Tulpan by Sergey Dvortsevoy (Germany/Kazakhstan/Switzerland/Russia/Poland)
Lino Brocka Grand Prize – Hunger by Steve McQueen (UK/Ireland)
SEA (Southeast Asia) Competition
Best SEA Short – Focal Point by Alizera Khatami and Ali Seiffouri (Malaysia)
Best SEA Film – Talentime by Yasmin Ahmad (Malaysia)
Special Mention – Woman on Fire Looks for Water by Woo Ming Jin (Malaysia)
Young Cinema (Philippines)
Best Short Film – To Siomai Love by Remton Siega Zuasola
Ishmael Bernal Award for Young Cinema – Remton Siega Zuasola for To Siomai Love
Digital Lokal (Philippines)
Lino Grand Prize – Anacbanua by Christopher Gozum
Lino Grand Jury Prize – Biyaheng Lupa by Armando Lao
Best Director – Christopher Gozum for Anacbanua
Lifetime Achievement Award – Paul Schrader (USA)
Indie Spirit Award – Lav DiazOctober 26th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Asian Films, European Films, Films, Independent Films, My Films, Personal/Expression, Pinoy Films, Places | no comments
HP 6: Masterful, Moody, and Magnificent
By Rianne Hill Soriano
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is by far the best of the series in so many ways. This sixth installment in the “Harry Potter” film franchise is of the right mix for the specific needs of the story. It is never dumb and yet it is not pretentiously profound. It is smart as it is honest. It is dark as it is funny. It is angsty as it is fun. It is gloomy as it is magical. And above all, it is sincerely the most human.
The film is a masterful work helmed by director David Yates who proves that the Potter franchise and J. K. Rowling’s story are in very good hands indeed. The mounting of the film is at its most spellbinding with his genuine craftsmanship. He knows his shots and doesn’t waste any moment from them. He is aware of its moody demands. He acknowledges what is to be magnificent and what is to be harsh.
The “Half-Blood Prince” is the purest example of virtuoso storytelling. It provides a satisfying visualization of the Rowling cosmos. This emotional and involving installment plays around the fantastic elements and introduces contrasting and playful human experiences set in the realm of magic. Dazzlingly well made and perhaps deliberately less fanciful than the previous entries, the film is a bubbling cauldron of hormonal angst, romance and heartbreak, and a genuine tone of a settling adult gloominess.
Impressively, this book-to-film translation doesn’t feel rushed. And it can stand on its own as a cinematic masterpiece. The film opens and closes well. It invests enough time to tell the story. With a few exceptions, the major plot points from the book have been significantly considered. More than the magic being played, the characters whom the people have come to know and love for more than half-a-decade now is well understood in this sixth film. As the latest one, it is closer to palpable human experiences than any of the others and is quite effective as such. And as a more human affair than its predecessors, it effectively offers flashes of darkness and pleasure to become such an immersive film faithful in capturing the texture and richness of its origin book.
Playing out in a series of both rough and gentle interludes, the film’s darkness lingers around the teen romance and humor. It is funny, moving, honest, sad, and sweet. The acting has improved greatly. The direction is solid. The effects are wonderful, but not overdone, and above all, it is seamless to the story. Its motifs on loss of innocence, the lashings on teen tension, and all the raging young adult hormones stir the story’s fine potion on magic and adventure. The predominantly downbeat mood is carefully utilized in between fun moments and aggressive behavior.
Helming the final four films of the franchise, Yates makes this second HP stint under his belt as dark and brooding while the intricate details of its fantasy aspect become extraordinary in various ways. Visually, this is definitely a solid HP entry, having impressive sets and effects. It has a wondrous physicality led by production designer Stuart Craig. The cinematography courtesy of Bruno Delbonnel completely shifts to a darker, more frightful style that greatly matches the story. The script is witty and steadfast in the hands of screenwriter Steve Kloves who introduces this latest film entry to the saga with a splendid mix of storytelling strokes, primarily through the friendship of the central trio who remains to be the very key to the film’s magically genuine appeal. The editing by Mark Day lives up to increasingly gravitate the matters of the heart and the hormones for the coming-of-age moments of the three major characters and their schoolmates. The original music from Nicholas Hooper mesmerizes the audience accordingly. Indeed, for this film adaptation of “Harry Potter Book 6,” the production team has really worked wonders to make it how it is.
The concerns of Rowling’s characters provide a more mature route for the story. And impressively, it has a strong sense of purpose and ambition that provides hope to countless worthless franchise offers these days. The film bravely leaves its own childhood behind and welcomes a more fiery and aggressive right-of-passage moment for itself. Most film sequels could be wheezing their ways to become shameful cashcow offers; but this latest chapter for the legendary HP franchise is definitely on the rightfully more reliable track.
This more mature installment is quite strong. It has concrete plotting, pacing, visuals, acting, and direction to keep up with the story’s fun, adventure, romance, and thrills. The film’s experienced team gives way to vigorous storytelling while marking due moments in preparation for the final battle between the light and the dark. The individual scenes generally work through well-founded staging. The challenging weaving of sequences carry out clear messages and emotions at most times. The story is not dependent on effects nor dialogues – it’s the overall mounting of each shot, from the framing to the subject, that makes it work.
So many actors shine in so many ways. Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter has truly grown up. More than merely getting taller, he delivers such a commendable acting as demanded by his character. Emma Watson continuously validates her strength and charm as Hermione Granger. Rupert Grint as Ron Weasey exudes an equally impressive performance as well. Overall, the acting was superb. Everybody works admirably: Michael Gambon as Professor Albus Dumbledore; Alan Rickman as Professor Severus Snape; Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy; Bonnie Wright as Ginny Weasley; Jim Broadbent as Professor Horace Slughorn; Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange; Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane as Tom Riddle; Evanna Lynch as Luna Lovegood; Helen McCrory as Narcissa Malfoy; Jessie Cave as Lavender Brown; David Thewlis as Remus Lupin; Timothy Spall as Wormtail; Maggie Smith as Professor Minerva McGonagall; and all the rest of the many characters who have made this “Harry Potter” offer a success.
“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is an impressive film that stands out as the new dark jewel in the “Potter” kingdom. For fans of both the films and the books, this is indeed an elegant addition to the canon – a fantastic magical ride of a movie highly recommended to both teenagers and adults. It can also be regarded as one of the most remarkable series in cinematic history. This film really sets up the stage for the last two installments – the seventh and final follow-up book “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” will be divided into two films to cap off this esteemed franchise.
Let’s hope for the best that the last two films also give justice to the final “Harry Potter” book.July 23rd, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Children's/Family, Epic/Adventure, European Films, Fantasy, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Flicks, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Religion/Mystical/Supernatural, Youth/Teenybopper | no comments
Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Jeanette Hain, David Kross
A provocatively intentioned story about sexual awakening and moral dilemmas, “The Reader” is a tragic film romance examining post-Holocaust guilt, the confronted atrocities of Nazi Germany, the beauty of literature, the shame of man, and the limits of law. It is a film that contemplates on the deeply complicated relationship between rational thoughts and instinctual feelings.
Based on Bernhard Schlink’s “Der Vorleser” which is also a hugely popular selection of Oprah’s Book Club, this film adaptation directed by Stephen Daldry tells the story of a young boy’s first sexual encounter traversing an uncomfortable territory. Set in post-war Germany, he finds himself having a torrid affair with an older woman, only to find out years later, as a law student immersed in courtroom proceedings, that she is a Nazi war criminal. While confronting his own family’s complications as an aging man and experienced lawyer himself, he is then haunted by the trial he witnessed from years ago and determined to sort out his own feelings of guilt and love. And so, from a titillating romance between an upperclass Berlin teen and a sexy but coarse tram worker, the film suddenly morphs into a modestly scaled courtroom drama that pushes profound questions about guilt and redemption.
Carefully, specifically designed to be adored for a certain demographic, the film starts erotic and sensual – with naked bodies in various states of repose and impassioned lovemaking – punctuated by the school boy reading through his school works with his woman: Homer’s “Odyssey,” “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Lady with the Little Dog,” and eventually even reading comic strips for her. After a sensuous first half, it becomes an exercise in philosophy and history where the past haunts the present in how truth and reconciliation can finally exist in such a chaotic and painful world.
“The Reader” is a Holocaust morality play alternating on passion and pain, distance and drama, literacy and law. Daldry’s sensitive treatment of a challenging, nuanced subject merits the attention of a discerning audience. Its structured plot and twists justified by the impressive performances make it a skillful piece of emotional manipulation where literature is an aphrodisiac and living with arresting secrets could reach out to blight lives in unexpected turns.
“The Reader” is admirable within its limitations. There are some convoluted and unevenly executed parts, but under the gloss of high production value and layered ambiguity about redemption, deception, and hidden truths, Daldry’s approach in making an emotional impression makes the film an absorbing drama about reconciliation. With its probing script by David Hare, atmospheric camerawork by Chris Menges and Roger Deakins, and painterly production design by Brigitte Broch, the film is considerably a worthy memorial to its producers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.
For some, especially to those who are not able to read the book, “The Reader” is actually easier to admire than to genuinely like. It seems to lose its more confident footing with some jumbled inserts of the past and present having indistinct pacing. There are also instances that the long, redemption-seeking end tends to detract from the impact of its most poignant moments. Nevertheless, this cloaked male fantasy, soft-core love story turning into a nuanced historical drama gets the viewer’s hand to gloss its very surface then move to certain depths mainly through its convincing characters. From within its own choppy and overdrawn elements, it interestingly develops a certain cumulative power to make things work.
“The Reader” is elevated by calibrated performances. The pleasingly adult material is powered by searing portrayals of Kate Winslet as Hanna Schmitz and David Kross as the young Michael Berg who commit to their piercing relationship with substantial nudity and the real colors and looming tragedies of their lives. There is something gripping about the May-December love affair between Michael and Hanna. The intricate, sensual performances pave way to a heartbreaking reunion in the end. Winslet, whose tense body language speaks of a quietly forceful, heartbreaking Hanna, finds herself as a woman who is willing to share her body, but never the secret that defines her. Built around her enigmatic character, she is brusquely adult and childishly vulnerable at the same time. She is intended to be an uncompassionate and unsympathetic character – and the audience doesn’t quite feel sympathy towards her. And yet, her achingly, crushingly real presence puts a validated foundation to the film being a moving tale of complex affection and shortcomings. Kross is superb as the coming-of-age Michael. He brings such a grounded, impeccably crafted characterization to his role – to the point that he actually gets missed by the film’s end part. Ralph Fiennes as the adult Michael Berg plays out a stately part as a solid, respectable, and matured man whose hidden and repressed boyish demeanor comes out as he tries to make up for what has haunted him through the years. The sharp work from the supporting performances also defines the film’s emotionally engaging presence where passion is nothing far from how illiteracy becomes an issue in itself.March 9th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Classic, European Films, Film Review, Hollywood Films, Love Story, Melodrama, Period/Historical, War/Spy | no comments
An Escapist Barcelona
By Rianne Hill Soriano
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Rebecca Hall, Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz
Woody Allen’s Spanish fiesta “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” puts a contagious enthusiasm to the sparkling sights and sounds of Barcelona while musing on the vagaries and complications of love. It charms with the beautiful views of the Spanish city and a well-matched cast that provides smart, sunny, and frisky escapism with sly humor and witty lines. It succeeds in making itself an engaging examination of human nature and seeking one’s place of passion in art and love. It is a pleasing and fairly smart film that reveals an unexpected willingness to the enchantment of art and the overflowing emotions it riddles through.
This new vintage offering from the 72-year old Allen is a reassuring return to form with its romantic glow that recalls the rich complexities of witty and playful storytelling since the time of his “Annie Hall.” As a comeback film, it explores an intriguing take on affairs of the heart and the unique, unpredictable nature of romantic relationships. A beguiling tragicomedy, it is funny, erotic, compassionate, and thoughtful in acknowledging the maddening complexities of desire. It shows the sacrifices that people make to be happy and the serenity found in accepting life’s inevitable disappointments. Through it all, it remains unaccountably romantic in its lightweight musing on love’s infinite variety.
“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is a rueful romantic comedy featuring two young American women on a summer holiday in Spain. They become enamored with the same painter, unaware that his ex-wife, with whom he has a tempestuous relationship, is about to re-enter the picture. Delightful amidst its predictabilities, the giddy romance is enlivened by the sunny Barcelona locations. Through the witty script, beautifully shot backdrop of the city, and the frequently hilarious performances, it promotes itself as a lusty travelogue making the most out of its Spanish setting and a fairytale from its voiceover treatment to the fancy restaurants, dazzling tourist attractions, plush hotel rooms, and gala gallery openings. Tonally, its fairytale-ishly European feel complements the two fascinatingly neurotic New Yorker main characters who put an ambivalent look at their relationships. The rich and wry dialogues and playful narration by Christopher Evan Welch makes it a clever dissertation of the left turns love can so easily take.
Allen’s camera looks quite liberated by the sunny locations – where he himself, along with his production team, seems enamored with Gaudi’s architecture, the Spanish guitar, and the romantically feudal locales. A film brimming with beautiful people and sceneries, the production design and cinematography by Alain Bainée and Javier Aguirresarobe mount Allen’s screenplay and treatment into a sun-speckled slice of froth, colorful whimsy, and incisive irony which places the finely sketched characters in an ideal milieu of comedy, romance, and madness.
An exhilarating, captivating, and enjoyable summer romance in an exotic city, it shows a slice of some reasonably complicated lives where the changing tides of emotion become a reminder how love, elusive and painful as it can be, can still be worth pursuing.
The acting talents are effective. The city is magnificent. The love scenes don’t get all sweaty but they turn out so sexy. The romp involving the ménage a trois among people with fluctuating interests and unbalanced libidos makes a deft path between sensuousness, vulnerability, and delusion in many ways.
Allen lets his characters have conversations with each other; thus, paving way to such delightful performances from Rebecca Hall, Scarlet Johansson, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz. Hall as Vicky and Johansson as Cristina bring the depth and angst of their Manhattan characters to Spain. From Bardem’s Juan Antonio Gonzalo whose stare and words capture a woman’s heart to Cruz’s Maria Elena whose neurotic passion is artistically sexy, they bring heart to the stereotypical Latin lover characters the way it suits the story. The supporting roles including those from Patricia Clarkson as Judy Nash and Kevin Dunn as Mark Nash being expat couples in Barcelona are also wonderful. But above all, the most striking performance goes to Cruz’s amazing rendition of Maria Elena.
For all its romantic excitements and disappointments, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is a sunny film that is not just comic nor tragic, but a breezing mix of the two. And seeing the characters interact in a complex tangle of interesting relationships, it is a bittersweet meditation on art and passion and on love in its many guises. A breezy effort that generally feels like classic Allen, this meltingly sexy rom-com truly validates the tagline: “Life is the ultimate work of art.”February 22nd, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Comedy, European Films, Film Review, Films I Like, Flicks, Gay/Lesbian, Hollywood Films, Love Story | no comments
Woman. Warrior. Queen.
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Directed by: Shekhar Kapur
Starring: Jordi Mollà, Aimee King, Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett
‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ is a contemporary allegory presented as a period film filled with rich Elizabethan colors, sumptuous costumes, political intrigues, religious wars, and intertwined personal relationships. And with the unparalleled acting talent of Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I, this sequel to the 1998 critically acclaimed film ’Elizabeth’ becomes a really compelling drama about the life and struggles of a woman, a warrior, and a queen.
The film dances through history, and even though the cinematic license pushes it forward more than its historical accuracy, ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ really gets its strength from Blanchett’s dominating bravura as a top-caliber actress. Her soulful modulation between queenly command and womanly anguish goes beyond the pageantry-fashion parade of Elizabeth’s middle years in her kingdom. Though there are moments when the feathery headdresses, the regal barge rides, the sumptuous banquets, the indoor forests of queenly wigs and elaborate gowns, and the royal gifts seem not so consistent with its medieval look as some look too modern for their times (inclusive of some too contemporary dialogue), the film holds on to something strong the way Elizabeth (through Blanchett) personally has her own source of strength – from the soulful eyes peering from behind the white face paint and headdresses swirling above her like forces of nature, the symbolic colors and fashion statements transform themselves into personal struggles, religious issues, and political statements. Here, the Virgin Queen struggles to hold on to power in a time of great religious divide and personal challenges – showing a portrait of a leader who has to rely as much on herself as anyone else when her kingdom is under the attack of one of the era’s largest empire. And just like Queen Elizabeth, the film is passionate with its visual flair and full-scale star performances.
Impeccably shot and acted, Blanchett once again imbues the Queen with her captivating mix of feminine strength, regal dignity, and intimate vulnerability. Elizabeth’s power and responsibilities deftly shows how a courageous woman leader executes matters of state in a time when men ruled most of the world. Blanchett commands the screen as she commands the royal navy. She vows herself to be in service to her people and accepts the fact that some of her personal interests would be better left unconsummated for the sake of her kingdom.
This Shekhar Kapur film is visually arresting – filling the screen with splashy, brightly saturated hues that give the film an almost fairy tale-like visual sense. From its extravagant costumes to its pompous score, ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ works around two threads: a soap opera love triangle and a study about statecraft and power. Kapur piles on the treachery, romance, intrigue, and betrayal aspects of the story and presents the film with impeccably designed drama exploring the woman behind the queenly make-up, wigs, and outfits – from her strongest to her weakest sides as a great leader and as a human being seeking for personal happiness amidst her larger responsibilities to her kingdom. The orchestral score is fine, although it becomes overwhelming at times.
People may find the film quite anti-Catholic. Perhaps, more than just having a superficial treatment that already crosses the line of the deplorable, it could have benefited the film if it were carefully set with more humanized elements than having too exaggerated moments.
All in all, ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ is still a grand package of dramatic acting, sumptuous design, and meditative moments of living life and struggling for the best of life’s journey.January 7th, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Biopic, European Films, Film Review, Hollywood Films, Melodrama, Period/Historical, War/Spy, Women | no comments
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
The Cine Europa 2007 favorite ‘Jalla! Jalla!’ (featured at the Shangrila Cineplex) is a light and intelligently funny Swedish-Arabic film written and directed by Josef Fares, a filmmaker born in Lebanon and moved to Sweden as a child. An earnest comedy about love, friendship, warring cultures, and sexual impotence, this feeble romantic comedy celebrates the fun union of cultures while touching on cross-cultural and sexual issues with a naturalistic tone – a funny buddy movie dealing with relationships, sex, and marriages.
‘Jalla! Jalla!’ meaning ‘Come on!’ or ‘Hurry up!’ in Arabic, reflects a cultural conundrum that rolls out the story like a playful comedy of errors. It has carefully utilized comic devices behind the film’s deeper shades of sadness, longing, and self-realization. It is happily glossed over as a light comedy with a particular flair of buoying the story with subtle points about cultures and relationships.
‘Jalla! Jalla!’ tells the story of the two close friends Lebanese-born Roro (Fares Fares) and his best friend Måns (Torkel Petersson) who, together with a deaf colleague, work as city park keepers in a Swedish town. Roro is in love with the beautiful Swede Lisa (Tuva Novotny). While Roro is stuck in hiding his relationship with Lisa from his tightly knit and strictly traditional Lebanese family who controls him very closely and keeps bullying him to get married, his best friend Måns, a regular Swedish guy struggling with a unique impotency problem, is desperately experimenting with sexual practices and toys as he and his girlfriend Jenny (Sofi Ahlström Helleday) get upset with his sexual impotence. Roro’s traditional father Farsan (Jan Fares) and grandmother Farmor (Khatoun Fares) arrange a marriage between him and a pretty Lebanese woman, Yasmin (Laleh Pourkarim) in connivance with Yasmin’s overacting weirdo brother Paul (Leonard Terfelt). Roro confides in his fiancée that he doesn’t want to marry her. As the feeling is mutual, they pretend to be engaged until they come up with a better solution in order to help Roro get some relief from his constantly nagging family and Yasmin to keep her life in Sweden as she is seriously threatened to be immediately sent back to Lebanon if the wedding is not announced. However, the delaying tactics backfires as the wedding preparations escalate out of control with Roro’s family, Yasmin’s brother, and Lisa all getting things intertwined and more complicated. Meanwhile, the beefy skinhead Måns discovers his girlfriend sleeping around on him. As Jenny leaves Måns, he takes his frustrations out on the furniture and he lands in jail overnight – where a strange epiphany occurs that alters his and his friends’ lives.
The issue on arranged marriages that keep people from fitting in and falling in love is the main subject fronting the film. This dialogue-fuelled film is mainly in Swedish with some Arabic finding its way here and there. Considerably, it is also refreshingly free from grand socio-political statements. It chooses to tell a rather light-hearted, feel-good story with good-natured frolic: a desperate macho man tripping for sex toys as mechanical aids for sexual problems; a father whose unlikely stomach butt comes in handy in times of danger; a talking bird uttering profundities in every unlikely moment; a pea-brained episode with Rambo the dog; a hysterical brother planning the wedding like crazy; and scenes with sexual magazines, whips, and enlarging pumps juxtaposed with a scene with a vacuum cleaner demonstrated by an eager door-to-door salesman.
With the use of the DV format, this digital film presents a more personal feeling and a heightened sense of reality. With lensing by Aril Wretblad, the video look enhanced accordingly by the lighting and camera work yields to the film’s required treatment – showing colors and details with mostly clear, natural look. The editing by Andreas Jonsson and Michal Leszczylowski keeps up with the establishing of the story and the fine pacing of the comedy. The musical score courtesy of Daniel Lemma is comically amiable. The sound design courtesy of Anders Horling, Thomas Huhn, and Miclas Merits makes the absurd appear all the more absurd and all the funnier.
The naturalness of the actors and actresses renders the film well. Though the characters are all paper-thin, they are brought to vibrant life by a terrific ensemble cast. Roro and Måns are pretty much the same at work. Then you see them at their respective homes where the cultural differences are made apparent. The characterization is a little better with Roro than with Mans who does not seem to have a whole lot more personality beyond his fear of being a jerk in bed. This may probably be because Roro’s background is a lot like that of the director. In fact, Fares has cast his own family, unprofessional actors, in the roles of Roro, Farsan, and Farmor.
‘Jalla! Jalla!’ is TV sitcom written for the wide screen. It is a fine comedy for anyone seeking something a little different than the usual romantic comedies and overused Hollywood laughing stocks.November 30th, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Comedy, European Films, Film Review, Films I Like, Love Story | no comments
A Girl in the Middle of War
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Imanol Uribe’s ‘El Viaje de Carol’ (‘Carol’s Journey’) is a touching movie about the effect of war on a girl growing up in a new land. This film from Cine Europa (screened at the Shangrila Cineplex) is yet another Spanish film that uses the country’s devastating 1930’s civil war as its setting. Based on the novel by Ángel García Roldán entitled ‘A Boca de Noche,’ ‘Carol’s Journey’ is seen through the eyes of the boyish 12-year-old Carol (Clara Lago), the daughter of an American father and a Spanish mother. From being a New Yorker, she comes to live in a little Spanish village as a firm decision from her mother who is also caught in the ultimate problem of her life. And soon, Carol finds herself a witness to the injustices of the society, the senseless wars, and the savagery of warfare. Yet, she continues to embark on a journey that will forever change her life.
At the tender age of 12, Carol has a period of serious cultural adjustments as she leaves the comforts and modern-day luxuries of a young girl born and raised in New York City for the tradition and history of a rural place in Spain. She is dropped into the middle of a politically divided family, a civil war, and a brewing up World War II. Her innocence and rebellious nature drive her at first to reject a world totally new to her. But through her friendship with a local teacher Maruja (Rosa Maria Sardà), also a good childhood friend of her mother Aurora (María Barranco), and a boy named Tomiche (Juan José Ballesta), Carol settles into village life and soon inspires change in the community around her.
As the restrained story moves on, you wouldn’t know war is raging from the peaceful place where Aurora’s father Don Amalio (Álvaro de Luna) and married sister Dolores (Lucina Gil), who is now the spouse of Aurora’s x-fiancé Adrián (Carmelo Gómez), live. Carol’s father, the American pilot Robert (Ben Temple), is now fighting in the war. What works best in the film is the adventurous Carol’s journey and her various relationships as she comes of age in the midst of issues in the family and the society.
The photogenic Clara Lago effectively plays her role as the quiet but willful Carol. Her acting is superb, very true-to-life, and very human. The weight of the film falls on her and the engaging Tomiche played by Juan José Ballesta – and the pair has worked best for the film.
In the film, the history of the Spanish Civil War is seen through the eyes of the children. The director-writer Uribe, along with his co-writer Ángel García Roldán, take advantage of the presence and the freshness of the young starring couple as the film spends a fair amount of time on the coming of age aspects of the two pre-teens in the middle of the war-stricken times.
As compared to other war movies focusing on the bigger picture of the battle, this film digs much deeper into the viewers’ hearts as the more personal events unfold one after another, while reminding us that life goes on amidst the incomprehensible cost of war. In ‘Carol’s Journey,’ Carol lives with the family of her mother in a town of people on one side of the Spanish Civil War, while her father works for the other side as a pilot for the International Brigades. The story and plot is deeply moving in many respects. As part of the audience, you find yourself immersed in the passionate story and the ‘very human characters.’ And some parts may nearly move the viewers to tears.
The beautiful cinematography courtesy of Gonzalo Berridi renders the flesh tones accurately and the details all crisp and clear. The heart-warming music by Bingen Mendizábal displays a touching depth. The editing by Teresa Font fits the intimacy of the story. Indeed, ‘Carol’s Journey,’ a story of a young girl beset by tragedy, is a well-cared production.
Amidst, the touching aspect of the film (which is its greatest asset), it has some flaws in terms of plot development as it tries to cover too many angles without tying the loose ends. Moreover, the validation in terms of not telling what caused Aurora’s death is not clear. Adding a little more information wouldn’t exactly lead to spoon-feeding.
Overall, ‘Carol’s Journey’ is very definitive of the time and setting it focuses on. It is well-acted and technically solid at the same time. The story shows a lot of thoughts and emotions. If you are a person who can be moved by light but emotional films, then this one is truly worth a watch.November 30th, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, European Films, Film Review, Films I Like, Melodrama, Period/Historical, War/Spy | no comments
Smelling Through Your Eyes and Ears
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer”
Starring: Ben Whishaw, Francesc Albiol, Gonzalo Cunill
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ is a deliciously perverse tale – a strange but beguiling film with rhapsodic language and intoxicating imagination.
A sensory prose adapted from Patrick Süskind’s best-selling novel ‘Das Parfum,’ ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ transforms into a distinctly bold and provocative work on the big screen courtesy of filmmaker extraordinaire Tom Tykwer (also the man behind ‘Run Lola Run’ and ‘Heaven’). The film stirs your imagination with its bizarre, macabre fantasy where the vivid visuals and astounding music makes you practically smell many of the scenes – where the eyes and ears turn into noses. It brings you as close as cinematically possible to capturing an elusive sense from a novel’s magical gift. And the way Tykwer treats the film makes it more like having aromatherapy oils and bath salts applied to your cinematic experience.
As an allegorical tale about the pursuit of perfection in a violent, brutish world, ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer’ weaves a sensual spell of extraordinary delicacy to hold your interest for more than 2 1/2 hours of visual panache in a kinky fairytale form. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), born with a superior olfactory sense, a victim of a passion larger and more powerful than he can handle, walks an irrevocable course in his search for the ultimate scent and preserving it. The story conveys the complicated world of smells and the world of Grenouille being a form of study about a troubled human being whose amorality makes him a potential Messiah, monster, or a menace to humanity.
‘Perfume’ has great moments of beauty and audacity. It is another compelling work from Tykwer. This period story is quite an unusual choice for a film adaptation with such a broad scale of theme to be recreated into a two-hour something audio-visual offer, but the filmmaker’s treatment in transforming it into film effectively utilizes adept magic realism that it delights the senses even for a story that deals with the life of a murderer. Tykwer has achieved one of those rarities with a film adaptation creating the kind of magic that mostly reads better on page than on screen. He proves how an incredible visualist he is in recreating the inner universe that his characters inhabit while putting drops of melodramatic beauty out of the material. His solid direction masterfully conveys the sensuality of smell via captivating images and music. The operatic and hand-painted heights of life and death that culminates in a ludicrous orgy scene don’t gratuitously portray sex and violence the way many films get accused of. Its unconventionality becomes its key strength to counter-attack the exploitation issues. Here, Grenouille’s subjective universe seems, if not normal, somehow perversely seductive with the infusion of numerous suspenseful and creepy scenes showing him at work and the cause and effect results of his acts.
The film brings out many universal issues in such a creative style. This cinematic adaptation clearly deals with a certain form of obsession and the vicious observation of human limitations. And it marks various perceptions and different interpretations to the viewers. And just like in the case of Grenouille, its footprint shows a particular issue on how art can be worth any human cost.
It is quite difficult to imagine a movie capturing the texture of its remarkable and elusive characters, but the intriguing performance by newcomer Ben Whishaw as a man whose phenomenal sense of smell takes a dark turn is oddly charismatic. His cipher of a performance makes the despicable Grenouille a complex and sympathetic antihero who thinks of nothing more than the alternative ingredients to his perfumes for him to create olfactory perfection. He is presented not as a mere lunatic, but as a guy who just needs to kill women – keeping him right on the edge between a monster and a genius. And Whishaw succeeds in making the repulsive protagonist thoroughly repulsive by lending weight to the character with less dialogue and more distinct moves and expressions to convey the profound effects of his supersensitive nose. And being the central character of the film, no amount of artifice can cover up such a need for a masterful performance. The supporting characters render great contribution to creating the colorful backdrop of 18th century France where the irony of smells are found in the many places. The magic realism could have not worked if not for the ensemble delivering effectively for the film. From the compelling narration of John Hurt to the enticing portrayal of beauty and innocence by Rachel Hurd-Wood to the ambitious and opportunistic moments of Dustin Hoffman, to the protective father role of Alan Rickman, everyone keeps up with the right caliber of what can be called, an effective ensemble performance.
The unique tone of ‘Perfume’ makes it a fairytale about the art, the senses, and a brilliant sociopath victimized by passion and victimizing with it. As a period film about a serial killer without having to show blood and wild action scenes, ‘Perfume’ pushes the envelope of an art film and gives the irony of scents a splendid presentation. Slow but suspense-filled as it is, Tykwer manages the absurdity of his subject matter well with such boldness and artistry. The film’s spectacle, along with its wicked sense of humor and the ironies of its aesthetic presentation, are its main source of appeal. From its laborious start to its breathtaking and whirlwind finish, it taps the human senses to a point that the audience tends to feel having a sort of consummate magic after watching the film.
From its artistic illustrations of scents, to its horrific slums, to its depiction of graphic mass sexuality, the film is both mesmerizing and disturbing to watch. The music by Reinhold Heil , Johnny Klimek, and Tom Tykwer adds a great amount of power to support the film’s intentions. The cinematography by Frank Griebe stunningly renders the elegant production design by Uli Hanisch and art direction by Hucky Hornberger. The film editing by Alexander Berner thoroughly delivers for all the cinematic elements to blend into a unified feast for the senses.
This uniquely magical piece succeeds reasonably well in achieving what many say is hard to utilize in the scope of cinema: conveying the world of scent and the significant scope of the sense of smell. With a good script courtesy of Andrew Birkin, Bernd Eichinger, and Tom Tykwer, and a brilliantly direction by Tykwer, the journey and alienation of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille turn into a combination of an elegant, unpleasant, intriguing, and disturbing cinematic opus.
Smell it with your eyes… In wilder terms, the film is like an addict consumed by drugs – and it shares a certain aspect of it to the audience.October 10th, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Classic, European Films, Film Review, Films I Like, Period/Historical | no comments
A Visual Caffeine
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Mariya Poroshina, Vladimir Menshov
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
‘Day Watch’ is a playful, surrealistic antidote to standard genre entertainment. It manages to be something more than the usual action, drama, and suspense. An audio-visual caffeine as it is, it has an unbridled cinematic creativity that makes itself a unique kind of movie experience. The film presents very real images managed by the right dose of twists and out-of-the-box visions. The style and treatment add emotional resonance to the epic energy of its intricate plot and its sharp, eerie, and visceral mood. It retains ‘Night Watch’s’ gorgeous and visually arresting style combined with that Russian streak of dark angst and a hip and new generation look.
‘Day Watch’ dives into the second chapter of the ambitious, visually dazzling Russian fantasy trilogy. It continues its tradition with a weird sense of humor and unconventionally presented special effects – shot in such a bold, crazy way that you would have to admire its pure audacity that effortlessly blends brilliant imagery with heart-pounding action sequences. Mixing history, sword and sorcery, and science-fiction, the film is bathed with opulent darkness and dread and a particularly Russian sensibility. The CGIs are incorporated into the real-life setting with a surreal context. And these elements turn out more organic than artificial. It clearly keeps the distinction between the pretentious and the profound. Add up its character-driven philosophy presented in a highly stylized form and you are on for a great combination of wall-to-wall action, oddly sweet-tempered mix of hyperbole, vexed characters, and profound issues about guilt, freedom, and responsibility.
At 132 minutes, the very core of ‘Day Watch’ is its reinvention of what Hollywood conventions can offer in the blockbuster market. Even though ‘Day Watch’ is probably a good 20 minutes too long, it is easy to forgive its excesses because director Timur Bekmambetov accomplishes such a stunning nature of effects that the Russian houses have been able to come up with on such a conservative budget – effects that range from horses smashing through the walls to a woman skidding her sports car along the face of a curved high-rise hotel to a climactic hotel showdown between the forces of light and dark giving another interpretation of the apocalypse. Indeed, he really knows how to marshal his limited resources into staggering heights.
Marked as a visionary filmmaker, Bekmambetov is certainly at the helm of the high-energy blast visual pyrotechnics look and feel for ‘Day Watch.’ Amidst the fact that he sometimes loses a more focused touch on the actual story in favor of impressive action sequences and amusing sidetracks, he keeps his story moving forward with the audience hooked up with every bit of his vision. The story could have easily bogged down with its mix of cumulative and complicated interpersonal dramas; but the wonderful acting, interesting characterizations, and great dialogues have all been powered up with many effective post-production tricks that you’ll be enjoying every shot, every scene, and every sequence.
Bekmambetov gives a deliriously stylish and endlessly inventive rollercoaster ride on this mainstream audio-visual opus from the novels of Sergei Lukyanenko and Vladimir Vasiliev. And it definitely sets the stage for a potentially interesting third chapter.September 13th, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Epic/Adventure, European Films, Fantasy, Film Review, Films I Like, Sci Fi/Cyberspace, Surreal, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
The Powerful Others
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
With the slick, kinetic, and stylish visuals flourishing right down to its creative graphic treatment, ‘Night Watch’ taps the audience’s energy with its own distinct identity as an ambitious vampire film and Russian epic. Working with Sergei Lukyanenko’s novel, visionary director Timur Bekmambetov creates an absorbing tale of crime and punishment through a host of CGI-heavy and action-oriented supernatural thriller in a realist setting. It echoes as a cinematic concoction reflecting something like the Cold War being re-imagined as an eternal balancing act between good and evil.
There may be nothing completely new with ‘Night Watch;’ however, Bekmambetov consistently brings unique and inventive stuff to make the film seem all fresh to the audience. And with all the energy ‘Nightwatch’ contains, this dark, claustrophobic, grungy first chapter of a three-part tale becomes such a thrilling ride. It piles visual inventiveness, thick atmospherics, cool wits, grungy music, splashy production design and art direction, and kinetic editing – crafted within the various scenes that combine fantasy, action, suspense, comedy, and drama. The story is well-realized technically and thematically as familiar ideas are refreshed by the intriguing shift in culture and setting. The characters are sketched in shades of gray.
As a wildly entertaining fantasy thriller from the outside, ‘Nighwatch’ becomes an allusion to post-communist fears and frustrations from the inside – add up hints of Russia’s great silent-cinema past that add greatly to its modern appeal. Twisted, mysterious, bold, and compelling, it becomes all vamped out as it shows the latest vampire-slaying couture within the Moscow streets.
Overall, ‘Nightwatch’ is a formulaic and predictable take on a Hollywood staple reinvented the Russian way. It generally caters to the young and hip audiences. Moving at a fast pace with constant swoops and tracking shots, the visionary grandeur benefits from its Russian perspective containing many neat, original touches that makes the film jaw-dropping in its own right. With a bracingly vivid sense of style and character carrying greater weight because of its natural, historical progression, it becomes a refreshing take on a never-ending fantasy war between vampires and the forces of light. Indeed, it becomes a genre tale that transcends the story into a bewildering, jarring, and emotional opus.
Bekmambetov is a confident and original director whirling the ordinary into the grand. The epic framework of ‘Nightwatch’ allows him to kick off a promising trilogy that challenges the clichéd vampire movies plaguing the cinemas all these years. The film creates a caffeinated mood amidst the hallucinogenic images, blaring rock music, subterranean editing, flashy subtitles, vortexes of crows, music-video-inspired action, frenetic special effects, and cool characters. Amidst the multi-layered plot and fast pacing (that get a little confusing at times being inevitably overburdened with back story; and there isn’t much chance to take everything in then completely digest it in a whim), the audience is still able to risk logic to yield to the creative treatment of the film as the main character deal with monsters who are only visible in mirrors, evil toys sprouting spider legs, evil witches devouring life from others, vampires of dark and light investigating and taking actions on supernatural crimes the way detectives, policemen, and ordinary people do in the mundane world, a son he has lost and found in the most unlikely and dangerous means, and a damned woman who gets everything passing her way all messed up including an errant screw traveling from the hull of a flying airplane into the nooks and cranny of the gritty passages down the ground to her very coffee cup.
A goth-Russian supernatural epic as it is, ‘Nightwatch’ is 114 minutes of visually astounding, heart-pumping, and ultimately gripping movie experience.September 13th, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Comedy, Epic/Adventure, European Films, Fantasy, Film Review, Films I Like, Sci Fi/Cyberspace, Surreal, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
A Passionately Dementored Fifth
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Melling, Emma Watson, Jason Boyd, Rupert Grint
Directed by: David Yates
Not everyone will like ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ mainly because of its really dark and heavy demeanor; but if you look beyond, you will appreciate how passionately intense this deliciously dark affair is. The significant story that is clearly tinged with sharp satirical thrusts keeps up with themes on isolation, loss, and grief. It is a powerful and poignant coming-of-age story about the darker threads and currents of growing up and facing the unpleasant realities in life.
This fifth installment of the Harry Potter franchise is bleak, dark, moody, and malevolent. The childish wonder offered by its predecessors is a true past. Say good-bye to magical chocolate candies and Quidditch fun. And say welcome to hormonal changes, politics, and rebellion. ‘The Order of the Phoenix’ draws as if all happiness has gone from the story, just like how the Dementors attack Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) during the first sequence of the film. And the effectively involving treatment by director David Yates makes a great deal on the creeping heaviness and unease needed by the film. It is an advantage to the story itself, and yet a disadvantage to those audiences who would rather want another dose of fun, colorful, and magical moments with the young wizards and witches of Hogwarts. So far, the only festive moment on the film is the rebellious fireworks display by the Weasley twins Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) as they invade the exam hall that is controlled by the new fascist head of Hogwarts Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton).
‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ ushers a climate of mind games, repression, sexuality, adolescent changes, paranoia, betrayal, fascism, power struggle, madness, and death. It overflows with devious plots, clever machinations, vicious mind control, subservient media, crooked government system, social injustice, black propaganda, and adolescent anxieties. The metaphors are mainly implicit and have a lot to do with growing up and greed of power. The magical teens are going through a difficult transition to young adults, and at the same time, they are keeping up with semi-delusional torturers and power hungry fascists. And from here, Harry and his band of school rebels start to prepare themselves on their own for the battles ahead. His underground force named Dumbledore’s Army secretly trains in a hidden spot inside Hogwarts to refine and develop their magical skills amidst the brooding dictatorship inside the school.
In the story, Harry is completely conflicted, isolated, and angry. His inner demons constantly wreck his peace of mind. He is haunted by nightmares and the tragic death of a classmate. He is struggling to evict Voldemort from his own mind. And just like any teenager with adolescent hormones moving here and there, his journey towards the dark becomes imminent.
As the fight turns political, hidden meanings become not so hard to find. Rather than having his heroism and skills regarded as he fends off an attack of two Dementors, Harry is threatened with expulsion from Hogwarts. He is summoned before a hostile tribunal similar to a Stalinist show trial before the increasingly Orwellian Ministry of Magic. Then, the students of Hogwarts are forbidden to learn anything that might be useful in battle with the threat of overpowering the Ministry of Magic (sounds familiar in so many ways, times, and places). Moreover, the altering of media information through the Daily Prophet becomes a much more serious depiction of the misuse of media power for selfish intentions. The pink and stout new teacher and Ministry of Magic puppet Dolores Umbridge becomes a classic force of resistance with a vein for sublimated violence. She embodies a rigidly delusional character abolishing civil liberties that have been a major trademark of Dumbledore’s liberal standards. She treats the students with an iron rod and decisively eliminates most personal freedoms to bring a fascist order in the school.
For such a two-hour film adaptation of what is originally hundreds of pages of a book, it is a true challenge for the film to keep up with the allotted screen time for its many characters and plotpoints. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg has necessarily compressed and streamlined the material. And understandably, the film is not capable of accommodating every role the best characterization it could have for the benefit of the film’s entirety. With Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), their significance in the story seems to shrink as Harry grows. They seem to only have a slightly more screen time as Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and the rest of the student characters including the queer and luminous newcomer Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) and Harry’s love interest Cho Chang (Katie Leung) who actually just fades away after her kissing scene with Harry. However, for this installment, Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) makes the most impact among the rest of Harry’s friends as she exudes a certain teenage glow. The teachers also get particularly short acting stints. Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson), and Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody (Brendan Gleeson) only show up with expectations from the audience that they are already established characters from the past Harry Potter films. The doleful Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) keeps up with a short but more significant screen time than most professors with some key revelations on his relationship with Harry and his father.
The film is brimming with impressively dark and gritty performances. Imelda Staunton exudes the creepy charm of a twisted instructor as the plump and pink Dolores Umbridge. This tea cozy bureaucrat sent by the Ministry of Magic to impose its will on Hogwarts leaves such a trademark with her odd little hysterical titters. Helena Bonham Carter as the shrieking maniacal villainess Bellatrix Lestrange adds a lunatic note to her demented character. Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, the wrathful villain who started it all, keeps such a compelling persona in his every inscrutable stare against Harry. Gary Oldman gives such a simple and yet emotional farewell as Sirius Black. Michael Gambon becomes an elusive character as the Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore. The way it is presented, his significance to this installment is to become Harry’s saving grace. As always, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint as Harry, Hermione, and Ron have clearly imbibed their characters for the entirety of the Harry Potter series. Harry clearly gets the spotlight being the main character. The two supporting characters Hermione and Ron slightly moves away from the spotlight for this installment. Newcomer Evanna Lynch embodies a certain enchanting and beguiling personality as Luna Lovegood. Her falsetto voice generally works, though it seems not perfectly on key all the time. Katie Leung as Cho Chang gets that that kissing moment with Harry under a magically sprouting sprig of mistletoe. However, it lingers just a bit too long and there is not enough chemistry between them.
As always, the special effects are undoubtedly superb. The climactic face-off against Voldemort and his henchmen at a Ministry of Magic storeroom shown in its 3D glory at the IMAX theater adds some resplendence to the wizard dueling as the wands double as deadly weapons. And although the 3D effects are clearly not perfected yet, it is such an exciting medium that is truly delighting to watch already. And noticeably, the IMAX technology is continuously improving in offering a new form of cinematic entertainment for the people.
‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ is a deliciously dark affair. It is the needed transitional work in the seven books of J. K. Rowkling. And while this fifth book is necessarily a dark and heavy one, it could be possibly branded as the least enjoyable of the lot so far. Personally, although Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ is still on top of my list, I do appreciate this fifth installment for the darkness it brings.August 3rd, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Children's/Family, Epic/Adventure, European Films, Fantasy, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Flicks, Hollywood Films, Religion/Mystical/Supernatural, Youth/Teenybopper | no comments
Mr. Bean’s Filmmaking in France
By Rianne Hill Soriano
The fun and inventive script and whimsical execution makes ‘Mr. Bean’s Holiday’ laugh-worthy.
In the film, Mr. Bean’s actual holiday would probably make any struggling filmmaker, actor, or actress get, at the least, two seconds of amazement. But don’t get confused, it’s your usual Mr. Bean movie for all the trademark fun. It just becomes a little more striking for me being a filmmaker myself. Yeah, Mr. Bean is going to a beach in Cannes. And with a little help from French places and people, he gets a standing ovation with his ‘incidental film opus’ at the Cannes Film Festival! Escapist as it is, I’m sure many artists dreaming of, at the least, attending the Cannes Film Fest, or getting acknowledged with his/her work in front of one of the most coveted group of world artists assembled in one grand occasion, can relate to such possibilities.
Personally, I can’t help but say that ‘Mr. Bean’s Holiday’ is a totally fun and inspiring experience for me. I thought, ‘If I were Mr. Bean, it would be one of the most memorable time of my life being in Cannes…’ I have just watched it a few minutes ago… and now I am making this review… that’s how fresh my thoughts are at the moment. Pardon my mentioning of some personal thoughts about it. This part of my review is very personal as I can relate to it on another level compared to maybe a doctor, lawyer, or engineer watching it. Now, read on for a review with myself more detached from such personal references…
‘Mr. Bean’s Holiday’ kicks off with Mr. Bean winning a camcorder and a vacation trip to Cannes through a church raffle. In Paris, he keeps up with the usual Mr. Bean antics and comic gestures while losing his way due to the language barrier. Early on, he gets stuck with his weird French meal – an icky-looking seafood platter – in a French restaurant. In between, he uses his camcorder to document himself and the many French spots like the usual tourist. And just before catching his train, he asks a stranger, (who turns out to be a film director and a Cannes Film Fest jury member on his way to the festival) to shoot him while boarding the train. However, the said turn of events accidentally causes him to be left behind the station, while his son is stuck alone inside the moving train. The guilty Mr. Bean tries to cheer up Stepan (Max Baldry), the boy, and helps him get back to his father amidst the many mishaps on their way to Cannes (losing his bag, wallet, travel documents, winning ticket, among others). While encountering the many troubles and chases to get his ticket back, he gets a glimpse of a beautiful French woman, tries to save her from the military war, and later finds himself disrupting the flow of a commercial being shot by the egotistical director Carson Clay (Willem Dafoe). He and Stepan finally hitch a ride with the same beautiful French actress Sabine (Emma de Caunes) who is heading to Cannes to attend the premiere of Clay’s film, in which she appears. After Mr. Bean sneaks into the showing, his camcorder images are destined to perk up the dull film premiere. And as expected, Stepan gets reunited with his father and mother at the festival, and the excited Mr. Bean finally gets to his dream destination – the beach!
Don’t try to find the laptop and coffee-licking scene at a train as seen in the movie trailer. It’s not in the final cut of the movie.
With the inclusion of the Cannes Film Fest in the story, the said big-time cinematic world event is portrayed light and a little satiric. It keeps a focus on the story, Mr. Bean, and the supporting characters – without really documenting a red carpet event filled with the bright international stars and personalities – as how the festival turns out to be in reality (but the interesting locations make some entertaining moments for the international audience who is quite curious about how Cannes looks like). The humor at the expense of celluloid pretensions is a simple way to come up with some good laughs for the cinemagoer – courtesy of the comic camera shots of Mr. Bean and his new-found friends and the voiceover of Carson Clay’s conceited film.
No doubt, the man behind the character Mr. Bean, Rowan Atkinson, is such a talent. Taking on a more European sensibility, this film’s hearty sweetness and slight naughtiness make the goofy slapstick routine of Mr. Bean a generally comical joy. Not all viewers would probably appreciate every bit of the joke times and antics, but for sure, everyone would have particular moments of laughter while watching this 90 minutes of classic comedy. The audience might know what’s going to happen next, some weak jokes may be delivered, a number of discontinuities abound, but still, it makes one laugh in the right moments. And with this movie being a combination of English and French, Mr. Bean’s comedic style really overcomes the language barrier. He proves that any corny gag and any technical, thematic, and even geographical errors as seen in the movie could possibly be elevated by certain clownish antics that can really keep up to the very essence of the film – to make the audience laugh. And the classic living icon in Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean really delivers here.
Each individual may have his/her own take on Mr. Bean’s very character. Some love him. Some hate him. And just like with this movie, each individual has his/her own views on it. But for sure, for most fans, it is such a welcome return to the ‘classic’ Bean the people have known since the TV series. He resembles a classic comedy with his trademark funny movements upgrading some complacent and dragging moments in the story. His established appeal overthrows such supposedly weak comic scenes with his already well-accepted goofs and his ability to emote with every facial expression and weird non-verbal suggestion.
With the many generations of fans he has now (and still counting), Mr. Bean’s comic power reiterates his being one of the best in the world of contemporary silent entertainment.
June 10th, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Comedy, European Films, Film Review, Films I Like, Flicks, Personal/Expression, Places | no comments
Shining Sci Fi
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Rose Byrne, Cliff Curtis, Chris Evans, Troy Garity
Directed by: Danny Boyle
‘Sunshine’ is an adult-orientated science fiction film. It shines with the powerful human drama and the sensory experience of being out there in space, struggling to save humanity from extinction. The film is not mainly a rehash of the likes of ‘The Core,’ ‘Alien,’ ‘Deep Impact,’ or ‘Contact.’ As compared to such basic sci fi and disaster flicks, ‘Sunshine’ is a cerebral sci-fi. It edges out the genre thematically, artistically, and psychologically. However, amidst some validating points in reference to its general theme and concept, the revelation in the end seems a little off the way the general audience can feel towards it.
‘Sunshine’ is an adult-orientated science fiction film. It shines with the powerful human drama and the sensory experience of being out there in space, struggling to save humanity from extinction. The film is not mainly a rehash of the likes of ‘The Core,’ ‘Alien,’ ‘Deep Impact,’ or ‘Contact.’ As compared to such basic sci fi and disaster flicks, ‘Sunshine’ is a cerebral sci-fi. It edges out the genre thematically, artistically, and psychologically. However, amidst some validating points in reference to its general theme and concept, the revelation in the end seems a little off the way the general audience can feel towards it.In ‘Sunshine,’ the story explores the deeper implications of being the world’s courageous ‘heroes’ ready to sacrifice themselves for the preservation of mankind. Director Danny Boyle reinvents the genre’s conventions by focusing on the issues of being human beings haunted by the loneliness of being millions and millions of miles away from the earth with the touch of the conflicting concerns between the boundaries of science and religion. Rather than expanding the mere thrills of a sci fi piece with huge action and suspense scenes, the film situates mainly on what the characters feel within their journey. It lets the audience relate and understand a real form of human struggle and what emotions entangle them while making up decisions on their own – knowing that their mission will make or break mankind. Its market is more on the deep-thinkers type and those who consider pondering about serious things as the apocalypse. Haunted by the question of divinity and the bigger ideas of presences and absences, the story really gives more value to the emotional perspective of the situation – where deep in the astronauts’ voyage, they are out of radio contact with the earth, and they are on their own to finish their mission.
‘Sunshine’ revolves around the spacecraft Icarus II. The graphic imagery generally has the feel of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘2001: Space Odyssey’ and Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Solaris.’ The luminescent images of the sun being shown in its scorching heat of tons and tons of atomic bombs work well in a practical sense. However, many will contest the believability and the odds behind the science presented in the story: the idea of reigniting the dying sun by putting in a payload device to pump up its deteriorating energy and using a manned ship literally traveling towards the sun itself to do the task. The basic knowledge thought in school about a dying star states that, when a star dies, it gets hotter and bigger until it blows up in a supernova. On the contrary, the dying sun here loses its energy and the earth suffers from solar winter – with the sun getting colder and colder due to a strange matter that makes it lose its naturally powerful state. Moreover, the idea of astronauts traveling towards the sun itself seems improbable and impossible with the technology of today or the near future. Nevertheless, whether this film is scientifically possible or not, this film speaks for itself being from the science fiction genre. And so, the non-realist point of view is just but okay – as this ‘science fiction film’ falls within grand traditions the way ‘Star Wars’ or ‘LOTR’ then becomes such acceptable works of fiction.
In ‘Sunshine,’ a group of eight astronauts and scientists are sent aboard the spacecraft Icarus II in order to drop a huge bomb, mastered by the physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy), into the heart of the sun to stop its internal deterioration and reignite it. As they come nearer with the apparent sign of their ship passing by Mercury, the nearest planet orbiting the sun, the crew hears a distress beacon from Icarus I, the first failed mission that disappeared seven years earlier. And this becomes the turning point of the story, where the crew of eight men and women further feels the weight of their make or break mission as they have to make the best decision on whether they change their path by checking on Icarus I first – knowing that having another backup stellar bomb from the previous mission giving signs of its presence would be an advantage to make their mission, the last hope of mankind, more likely succeed.
The sound design is commendable. The soundtrack has a number of 90’s techno sounds that work in line with its plotpoints and some eerie and dramatic tunes to back up the more human side of the story. The CGI works well – including the reflective solar panels of the spaceship. The sun’s magnificence and peril are carefully infused as seen in the film’s retina-scorching visuals. ‘Sunshine’ provides special effects and designs to promote both the drama and the graphic imagery to make the audience really feel the blazing sun amidst the dark abyss of space.
It is also good to note that the CGI does not overpower the complexities of the characters.
The acting in the film is generally competent. Cillian Murphy pulls off the emotional dynamics for his role as the physics expert-turned astronaut Capa. Hiroyuki Sanada as Captain Kaneda gives a certain impact to the story – with his character complimented by his naturally dominating and respectable on screen presence. Chris Evans as the engineer Mace marks a new persona in his character, a little farther as compared to his filmography of pop and comic characters. Michelle Yeoh as the biologist Corazon emanates deep emotions through her passionate moves and her line deliveries. Rose Byrne exudes a sympathetic personality as Cassie. Benedict Wong gives some intense acting moments and one particularly passive but completely striking scene in the film. Cliff Curtis as the doctor Searle, resonates such a firm presence as the psychologist on board to help the crew cope up with the harsh realities of a lengthy and risky space travel. Troy Garity as the communications officer Harvey gives his share of character complexities to further build up the sub-complications of the story.
Despite a slow start, the film picks up the pace by its middle part. It may be Boyle’s intention to really build up the characters and turn of events during the film’s slow-moving first part. From within the spacecraft, he seems to really set the mood and feel of having six men and two women traveling in space for 16 months inside such a silver and white cabin. And so, with the crew’s very experiences for this lengthy space mission and the pressure of being the last hope of mankind, the film shows how these men and women are fighting not only for their lives and for humanity, but also for their sanity.
Understandably, the film’s characters remain quite underdeveloped. Other than showing a little screen time of Capa saying his final words to his loved ones back in the earth, other than their actual professions and expertise, there are no back stories of the lives of the Icarus II crew. ‘Sunshine’ clearly focuses on the deeper human issues of life and survival. The human factor of the story makes its sincerest mark as the story haunts the mere questions of life and divinity. However, the mere antagonist of the film is quite off in the sense that it becomes a little far-fetched mainly in terms of the film’s tone and feel. SPOILER: From a psychological sci fi, the film suddenly becomes a slasher psycho type movie by its last part as it throws in a deranged serial killer for the astronauts to fight with. More than being highly improbable, such a twist quite cheapens the movie’s tone. Played by Mark Strong, the monstrous character of Pinbacker goes in line with the sanity vs. insanity points of the story. However, this gets to be picked up later on upon analyzing the movie. During the actual watching of the film, the far-fetched turn gets a more prominent negative reaction with the turn-of-events. And so, one point that the viewers may consider pondering on would be: ‘maybe there could have been a better way to insert such an issue without really hitting on such an offbeat twist…’ END OF SPOILER.
Overall, the concept and treatment made for ‘Sunshine’ delivers its message across… It captures the essence of its convictions. Without trying hard, it does not impose nor intimidate anyone’s beliefs. Though it has some hang-ups, it does get to validate its points. And watching this film is something worthwhile mainly for those who are in for a cerebral sci fi piece.April 3rd, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Epic/Adventure, European Films, Film Review, Sci Fi/Cyberspace | no comments
Breaking and Entering
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
‘Breaking and Entering’ explores the dysfunctions of a family. It mainly connects with a cerebral approach to a romantic drama tackling the issues of love, trust, and sacrifice through intertwined relationships. The film’s main family members are named ‘Will, ‘Liv, and ‘Bea’ (pronounced as letter ‘b’ in the film) – which shows how much of its sense of pace, tone, composition, and writing are all thought off with much metaphors and allegories in mind.
In this film, writer-director Anthony Minghella plays around family dynamics, rebellion, immigration, fidelity, trust, acceptance, and communication while raising social issues that discuss the human side of stealing – physically and emotionally. Will (Jude Law), a landscape architect and a father and husband to a dysfunctional family, follows the life of a young thief causing intertwined lives and relationships. Set in a modern-day London, Will lives with the Swedish Liv (Robin Wright Penn) and her autistic daughter Bea (Poppy Rogers) whom he learns to consider his own. As the tension and uneasiness grow within the home, Will seeks outlet by having an unlikely affair with the mother of the thief who broke into his business establishment – putting further complications to his already tenuous relationship with Liv and the robbery case of his mistress’ son.
The film has texture and depth. However, some plot contrivances almost come to the point of getting the spontaneity of human emotional responses lost on certain situations. While trying to ultimately yield towards the carefully constructed story, some of its plot mechanisms kind of hinder some of the actors’ and actresses’ more humanly responses to more effectively interpret their roles. And so, it seems to have a minor disadvantage on creating the better emotional thump at the height of some conflicts. And in the same fate as having a too constructive approach to the story, the ending seems a little contrived in presentation – the emotional side falling a little short.
Jude Law renders a matured performance for this film as he attempts to deliver the intangibles asked by the script to drive the story further. Without speaking much and by merely making her small gestures, Robin Wright Penn endures an emotionally distant character who is unable to communicate her submerged emotions well with Will. Poppy Rogers justifies her role as the very hyper and behaviorally-challenged daughter suffering from autism and living her life as a good gymnast. Juliette Binoche as the Serbian refugee Amira works well with her Serbian accent and she plays her mother and mistress roles with conviction. Rafi Gavron as Amira’s thief son Miro is generally fine for the rebellious adolescent role, but he and Binoche don’t look that convincing as mother and son with their physical features. Vera Farmiga as the foreigner whore Oana gives a strong, dashing performance in her short screen time.
Law as an architect and Binoche as a seamstress make statements for what life has to offer for them and what they build and repair in their complicated lives. However, there seems to be a lack of chemistry between Law and Binoche that the audience don’t get too caught up in the emotions they should have been bringing further on screen.
Amidst the random collisions of classes and cultures, ‘Breaking and Entering’ has a melodramatic premise with a bourgeois presentation on becoming lost and dysfunctional. Cerebral and allegorical as it is, its moral pins and needles mainly work for the kind of setup crafted for it. This cinematic offer connects on a more intellectual level above everything else.March 21st, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Children's/Family, European Films, Film Review, Hollywood Films, Melodrama | no comments
German Expressionism in ‘Golem’
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
German Expressionism has been relived once more with the showing of another classic from the 3rd German Silent Film Festival at Greenbelt Cinema 1. With the yielding musical score rendered live by the band ‘Drip,’ the 1915 silent film ‘Golem’ finds parallels in the evolution of the horror genre seen in the very history of cinema. Based from the book about a clay statue brought to life by a rabbi in 16th century Prague to save the Jews from the ongoing brutal persecution by the city’s rulers, ‘Golem’ is a blend of Jewish mysticism, fantasy horror and fairy tale. The strange things that happen in the story border on the supernatural and the socially relevant events overshadowing the lives of the Jewish during those times.
Director Paul Wegener tackles how the misuse of power can lead to a monstrous end. He portrays the supernatural elements of the story in those times of medieval Prague – with people believing that an amulet and an incantation could bring a clay figure to life, to become a slave and to serve as a protector of the Jews who live in the Prague ghetto. A classic example of German Expressionism, ‘Golem’ exudes a direct influence on many of its contemporaries including another classic example of its kind – the ‘Frankenstein.’ And being a film made during the early days of cinema, its elements prove to be seminal in the development of the horror film genre.
Classic as it is, there is a considerable amount of drama, a touch of comedy and operative elements of horror and German Expressionism seen in the film. With its look and feel, it is as if the people watching were a captive in an alternate dimension of reality. The people see: weird magicians living in a strange expressionistic ghetto; stunningly exaggerated sets; curved stone walls; sharply pointed roofs; dim lighting and looming shadows; stylized props; and expressionistic make-up where the characters’ faces are made pale with heavy eye-liner and eye-makeup that is very much apparent to improve the high contrast visuals.
‘Golem’ is an archetypal story told many times in various forms but this film version really keeps up to a certain level that carries on abstract conversations and exemplifies much of what is happening on both the symbolic and metaphysical planes of the Jews during those times. This great expressionist classic threads on mystical wisdom and power and renders incredible visuals and atmosphere. To those who are familiar with mythology and knowledge of underworld characters, the film delivers some creeps with the mentioning and summoning of certain names from the underworld when the ‘Golem’ is being brought to life. Moreover, made with veiled anti-German and not so veiled pro-Jewish sentiments, the film somehow depicts metaphors for the political and societal perspectives during that point of history. And the filmmakers seem primarily interested in getting these ideas across.
Visually, the mise-en-scene is well rendered. It gives the film a dream-like quality. An impressive design for one of its main sets is notable – the two sets of circular stairs the characters climb down to enter the rabbi’s room looking like the twin chambers of a human heart.
More than being a popular figure in Jewish folklore, the ‘Golem’ is initially an ideal weapon, a Frankenstein-like monster of the Jews. But in spite of its stature, he is troubled and fearful. In following the rabbi’s orders, he is usually as fearful as any normal human would be. Though tall and tremendously strong, he is stigmatized and lonely. He has a very placid and passive disposition when not under orders to act otherwise. The ‘Golem,’ who is brought to life to save the Jews from a gloomy future ahead and to become the rabbi’s menial servant, is only capable of brute force; therefore violence is inevitable. He quickly learns that he can remain alive if he refuses to let anyone take off the amulet and he pushes away anyone who tries to remove it. And the complication further rises from this point of the story.
The acting performance of the ‘Golem’ is subtle – playing a force of nature without conscience or emotion. However, at a certain aspect, with the general audience of the present, the treatment for the ‘Golem’ seems to lack certain empathizing elements. Moreover, the ‘Golem’ seems to have certain concessions made to its dramatic and comic style. And the technical limitations compared to what cinema can offer now is something to look into for a general audience who is used to the contemporary type of storytelling; but on the other hand, it takes on a positive stroke for being something new as compared to the usual. The contemporary audience who get to see a different treatment from the usual cinematic form of the present films could become effective to certain people’s eyes. And the exaggerated acting of the actors and actresses become validated with their acting trying to compensate on the limitations of the silent film visually and aurally. Also, the live musical score provided by the Filipino band ‘Drip’ gives a sort of contemporary pace without the film losing its classic dimensions.
The film is mainly a piece of entertainment and an artifact of a dramatic period in history. The ‘Golem’ is a classic film of great power that is as hypnotic as a German Expressionist vision of life as a waking dream filled with an exaggerated audio-visual force.
September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Rianne | Classic, European Films, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review | 2 comments
Femme Fatale with ”sphalt�
By Rianne Hill Soriano
Taking its final bow for this year’s roster of German silent films, the German Silent Film Festival features the 1929 silent film ‘Asphalt’ accompanied by the music of Cynthia Alexander. Set in Berlin, the film tells the story of an alluring woman arrested for theft. This femme fatale with irresistibly enthralling eyes and supple skin seduces the young police officer who finally succumbs to her inevitable charm and lets her escape. This film keeps up to the silent era crime drama of the 1920�s. And as a simple morality tale played out through a straightforwardly melodramatic storyline, ‘Asphalt’ upholds purity of visual image that effectively touches human emotions in a classic way.
Under normal viewing conditions, the picture quality of this more than 75-year old film only shows slight aging problems. The images remain relatively okay. The greyscale tones keep up with the gleaming whites and deep dark blacks. Overall, its outstanding cinematography and production design still render excellently on the big screen. As a fine example of the characteristics and virtues of late German silent cinema, director Joe May promotes ‘Asphalt’ as very visual – with lots of facial close-ups, distinctive cutaways, softly filtered lighting, shadowy rooms and hallways, grand and stylized sets, elaborate locations and naturally blocked crowd scenes. ‘Asphalt’ opens with an interesting montage within the asphalt streets of 1920′s Berlin where workers pound the asphalt into the roads, where countless cars pass by the Berlin traffic zones and where the crowds of people throng past the glamorous shops situated all over the busy streets. These visuals open a scene-setting montage using all the effects and overlays that have been pioneered by May and his contemporaries (considerably the impressive visual effects during those times – coming from the golden period of silent cinema, just before the advent of the talkies). In this film, the fast moving crowds of people and traffic are all shown with interesting, overlapped and angled photography. These elements set the opening scene well as the lead characters are introduced in their natural working environment amidst the tough realities during those times.
Albert Holk (Gustav Fr�lich) is a straight policeman and traffic enforcer who maintains peace and order in the city amidst the harsh elements of the urban society in that area of Berlin. Else (Betty Amann), a dark-haired beauty with tantalizing eyes and gorgeous skin, is a shoplifter masked in her femme fatale looks. She gets caught of stealing a diamond after distracting the owner with her charms. And it is when these two characters meet that the initial turning point of the film arises. She attempts to use her captivating looks to seduce the officer into letting her off. Soon becoming emotionally involved with each other, the officer starts feeling guilt over letting pass on his duty to arrest her. The complication is further substantiated when Else’s other man goes back to Berlin from a crime operation in a bank in Paris.
The cast gives excellent, emotional performances. Betty Amann as Else seduces both the officer and the viewer with just her eyes showing a great range of emotion in her countless close-ups. Her effective acting works as a woman in control both in the dramatic and comic parts of the film. Her stance wields a powerful character supported by her ‘sob story and pleas’ in order to get what she wants. Gustav Fr�lich as the firm and straight police officer Albert Holk delivers well on screen as well. The determination of the young officer to carry out his duty and his struggle to overcome Else�s tempting offers works well on screen. After murdering Else’s lover, he is filled with remorse and turns to his father, a veteran police officer himself, and confesses everything. The police officer hands over his own son to justice. These conflicts between doing his duty as a policeman and his personal choices made mirror his father’s preference for him to pay for his mistakes. And in the end, the drama arises further when Else makes her own kind of sacrifice.
‘Asphalt’ is a film about the conflicts of love and duty. It takes the direction of portraying the characters in scales of gray. The social circumstances presented in the film reflect a certain post-war social unrest. However, the profligacy is delivered in a more personal level as how the characters have been developed in the story.
The live musical score headed by Cynthia Alexander has rendered well with its wide, dynamic range contributing to the rich and warm instrumentation of this silent film.
‘Asphalt’ is quite simplistic, melodramatic and not terribly original. Yet through the director�s silent storytelling skills and the subtlety of his choice of angles and cuts, the story makes a touching and meaningful classic film. Amidst a bit of dragging scenes as the audience nowadays is generally more used and attuned to the present-day type of presentation and storytelling, the classic feel this film exudes counters that certain drag. Overall, ‘Asphalt’ is a fine example of the characteristics and virtues of late German silent cinema. Belonging to the genre of street movies, it is a fine example of an early film noir set in stunning locations all filmed with characteristically elaborate detail, spectacle and scores of extras.September 11th, 2006 Posted by Rianne | Classic, European Films, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review | no comments
A Dark, Adolescent Potter
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by: Mike Newell
Official Movie site
Darker, a little more mature, and a little less magical,’ Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ deals primarily with rejection and hormones as Harry and his friends struggle through the transition from childhood to young adulthood. This time, the film focuses on the students in their awkward stage. The film’s look is less ostentatious than the previous installments – it’s more intimate and real. With the exceptions of a Quidditch stadium, and some dragons and mermaids, the film tones down on special effects. And yet, it enchants and satisfies its followers and its literally growing fans who have read the book and/or watched the first 3 films. Some familiarity with the world of Harry Potter is necessary – through the books or through the first 3 movies. Director Mike Newell gives this realm of fantasy adventure a dark, more human look with due respect to what has already been established by his predecessors.
A year older and a little wiser, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is having strange dreams about his arch-enemy Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). And he surprisingly becomes a wild card, an under aged competitor, in a dangerous interschool wizardry competition. Harry wonders if there are forces against him in a conspiracy as his name gets released from the Goblet of Fire while Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry hosts the Tri Wizard Tournament. The champion wizards from the participating schools compete against each other for eternal glory – Fleur Delacour (Cl�mence Po�sy) of Beauxbatons Academy, Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski) of Durmstrang Institute and Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) and Harry Potter of Hogwarts.
Being from the fourth Harry Potter book, the longest of the first four novels of J. K. Rowling, this 2-hour film version highlights the World Cup and the Tri-Wizard Tournament amidst a number of great chapters/subplots from the book. Too bad not all the wonderful and magical details would be accommodated by just one cinematic version. And so, the film focuses more on the tournament and the more human side of the students: the Yule Ball, first dates, school rumors, teenage love and romance, and other teenage issues. Hermione Granger’s (Emma Watson) other side is given more attention in this film. If she has been known as the diligent and excelling Gryffindor student with muggle parents, this time, she turns into a beautiful young woman attracting a fair amount of male attention, including the famed foreigner champion athlete Viktor Krum and Harry’s green-eyed buddy Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint). The senior characters Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), Prof. McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Prof. Snape (Alan Rickman), Lucius Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) are given only few but significant exposures. The most scenes for the senior characters are given to the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, the man with a free-floating left eyeball, Prof. Alastor Moody (Brendan Gleeson).
At the World Cup, as presented during the first few minutes of the film, Voldemort’s Death Eaters gain strength and even create the dreaded Dark Mark which gives the sign that the Dark Lord is ready to rise again. Then, at the climax scene, there comes the return of Voldemort. Fiennes’ portrayal of the evil wizard doesn’t seem all that ominous, and is in fact, quite disappointing. It’s like his followers, the Death Eaters, are far more sinister than him. Being the Dark Lord seen in his human form for the first time, he seems to be a not so ultimately terrifying figure at all. The ending also becomes a bit too fast. A little more suspense-thrilled and dramatic climactic fight between Harry and Voldemort could have been more heart-pumping.
The film maintains its high ranks in production design and cinematography. Its dark presentation gives justice to the story. The production design gives a whimsy and ominous enjoyment for imaginative minds. Aside from the Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang robes and uniforms, the potions regularly drank by Moody, the gilly weed eaten by Harry, the runes seen around the Goblet of Fire and a clock shown during the second challenge of the Tri Wizard Tournament, the portkeys, the bringing back to life of Voldemort, and the petrifying spell of death which has caused a murder within Hogwarts, there are no much ‘abrakadabra words, spells and symbols’ to be seen in great highlight.
The roster of music for the film may not be like stand alone hits for radio countdowns, but the tracks work their magic onscreen. It bursts from brass-heavy orchestration to a scream of strings to that well-known stinger-like Harry Potter magical tune heard in the trailer and the film’s opening billboard. Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Phil Selway also appear as a rock band during Hogwarts’ Yule Ball.
‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’ is more human, but magically-enthralling nonetheless. It is more adult, which fits its growing audience better. Overall, it becomes faithful to the book. Though the treatment and presentation of this film version does not show-off much magic among all the characters as compared to the previous Harry Potter installments, enough sights and sounds stir the audience’s enchanted imaginations.July 11th, 2006 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Epic/Adventure, European Films, Fantasy, Film Review, Films I Like, Personale, Youth/Teenybopper | no comments
How ‘Mad’ is ‘Juana la Loca?’
By Rianne Hill Soriano
While in the midst of watching films in the theaters in hot and burning days as this summer, ironically, it is sometimes cool to watch some art films rented in reputable video stores that offer a wide variety of films (from B-movies to art films). And for a change, I am giving you a film review of the 2001 Spanish film Juana la Loca (Joan the Mad). After reading this, you might want to check it out at your favorite video store�
History as a subject for movies intrigues filmmakers, writers and producers. For big budgeted features, it’s a great opportunity for lavish costumes, scenery, violence and romance. Notice the epic myths and stories and their characters ranging from LOTR and Troy, to Elizabeth and Alexander; include here the subgenre specializing with the intrigues of the royal courts as based and inspired by history. Most of these films may not be an accurate portrayal of historical events (safe to say, liberties can be taken for dramatic or poetic license), but it’s still worth seeing. And with Juana la Loca, the movie gives a realistic idea of what life has been like in the 15th to 16th century Spain.
The viewer gets an intimate look at life as a female member of a royal family during those times. The film begins with a scene of an aged Queen Juana (Mar�a Jes�s Vald�s) who in the year 1555 still feels the grief and sadness as she has been imprisoned in a Spanish castle for nearly fifty years. The next scene is in 1496, when Castile’s reigning Queen Isabel (Susi Sanchez), also known as Christopher Columbus’ benefactor, tries to calm her nervous seventeen-year-old daughter Juana (Pilar Lopez de Ayala), who is about to get married to Archduke Philip of Flanders. As a young girl sent for an arranged marriage to strengthen the family’s political ties, she is separated from her family and forced to live in a foreign land.
As a brief historical overview, Juana is the eldest daughter of Isabel de Castilla and Fernando de Aragón, historically known as `Los Reyes Católicos’, whose youngest sister, Catalina (Catherine of Aragón) was to end up headless following her marriage to Henry VIII, king of England. In the film, Juana of Castile and Archduke Philip of Flanders (Daniele Liotti), otherwise known as `Felipe el Hermoso’ (Philip the beautiful), heir to the Holy Roman Empire which consisted of Germany, Flanders (today being part of the Netherlands) and northern Italy, are infatuated at first sight and marry without ceremony. And they instantly go to bed a few minutes after laying eyes on each other. Juana learns she likes sex a lot. Her love for Philip becomes consuming and obsessive. She begins bearing him children in rapid succession. Meanwhile Philip goes far beyond his supposed hunting adventures. It is actually a disguise to his Infidelity. And political power becomes his major concern.
The locations and sets are vast and ornate. The costumes are richly detailed. Its presentation of 16th century Europe is grainy and realistic. The cinematography benefits greatly from the details of the production design which doesn’t fall into the temptations of ‘too much lavishness’ with the concept of a period film. It remains unstylized and valid. It was visually powerful without being technically self-indulgent. Blacks are dense and rich with good shadow detail. It has many warm and dark, candlelit interiors which is in par with the treatment and story.
Juana’s love for Philip is entirely physical and sexual. The young Juana and Philip have a week-long honeymoon/sex marathon. And since then, she turns into his slave. Philip’s manhood becomes the instrument for her misery. Juana is a victim of the males in the court who surround her. Philip, a complete womanizer, plays the man’s game while she plays the game according to the ‘rules for women’ who has been far too repressed, suppressed and oppressed during those times. Her ambitious husband who strikes a deal with her father King Ferdinand of Aragon, uses her jealousy against her. Along with the treachery of her unscrupulous father, Philip gets the throne, free to bed whoever he desires; while Juana’s lack of control permits the manipulation of her husband to have her declared incompetent to rule. She is declared mad and forced into incarceration.
Aixa, a Moorish King’s daughter, Philip’s favorite mistress, and later on, one of Juana’s ladies-in-waiting disguised with the Spanish name Beatrix, gives a disease to Philip. This is covered up until he is on his deathbed. Philip’s principal aide De Vere (Giuliano Gemma) plots to have Juana declared insane so the throne can pass to Philip before his death to enable them control of Castile. As the Castilian nobles fail to get the queen into political action, they then realize that Juana is indeed unfit to govern. However, before she is incarcerated, Philip dies at the age of twenty-eight. Juana ends up confined at the isolated fortress of Tordesillas for the rest of her life.
In this film, Juana’s psychological landscape is left unexplored in favor of her purely sexual motivations. The overall treatment given to her can probably label her a ‘nymphomaniac.’ She persists in wanting her husband’s body as if she were a twenty-first century liberated woman.
Her husband, her father and most of the characters are depicted not too favorably. They are given considerably black and negative characters. No much gray characters are seen. Even with Juana, she is portrayed as nothing more than an obsessed woman who likes having sex with her husband. In fact, there is no much scene of her interacting with her children or conducting her responsibility as queen. She becomes emotionally unstable as even the aged Juana seen at the closing scene of the film laments for Philip to the point of saying that she even misses the smell of his armpits.
The film fails to develop the political climate of the time. I believe it could have been more appealing if even a slightly more detail is given further so as to satisfy some conscious or unconscious questions in the minds of the viewers who are not familiar enough with the historical background of that time. It spends a bit too much time on dwelling on Juana�s jealousy and obsessions.
Pilar Lopez De Ayala as Juana is the best thing in the film. Her acting is superb and she is most fitting for the role. Daniele Liotti’s characterization of Philip, a man endowed with the looks and the sexual prowess, is valid. But the character he plays features a dull and selfish royalty who can only be identified with that sexual, sometimes disinterested, and sometimes treacherous stare. He is effective enough for the ensemble, but he could have served a better purpose if a little more color has been added to his character.
It is unlikely that even though the film takes place over 10 years, the roles, in all aspects, don’t mature at all. For this, the characters lack further depth. And they are nailed to those same characterizations from start to end. It becomes inane and one-dimensional.
Juana la Loca skips to indulge with the mostly expected fight and battle scenes as with the usual medieval eras and royalty scenes captured in film. It is more character-oriented. Juana lets her lust for her husband overtake her sense of duty. The film has a rich and sensuous look in staging that century’s Spanish courtlife. It combines fact with fiction, history with histrionics. In dark hues, the scenery is almost entirely interiors of the palaces with high production values.
Looking into Juana’s sexual character, is she really ‘mad’ or is she just ‘sexually liberated?’ Putting this issue of the film in the present state of affairs, we are left with the distinct impression that Juana has been neurotically obsessed by love, but not insane by current standards. And so, the film serves to redeem her reputation as somebody who is ‘crazy.’ The film suggests that her ‘madness’ is that she has just been a woman ahead of her era’s standards. Personally, I would say it is more of obsession, not being mad or crazy, for that matter.
As a controversial and a beautifully filmed period film, the main actress’ effective interpretation of Juana’s extreme emotions, full of intensity and conviction, and the minor flaws in the treatment and certain plotpoints, I will rate the film 3.5 out of 5.
Now, the new issues to follow: Heart vs. mind? Responsibility vs. personal needs? Love vs. career? These are a few significant issues we can confront based from the film’s own issues of its time which we can very much connect with in this present time’s own issues and queries. We provide the answers.July 1st, 2006 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, European Films, Film Review, Love Story, Melodrama, Period/Historical, Women | no comments
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