“Like” if you like!
Pera-perahang Lata (Penny from the Tin Can)
Aninag (Light’s Play)
“Like” if you like!
Pera-perahang Lata (Penny from the Tin Can)
Aninag (Light’s Play)
Tim Burton Biography: From His Early Years to His Early Career as a Filmmaker
Timothy William Burton, better known as Tim Burton, is an American filmmaker distinctive for his dark, strange, and visionary style.
Tim Burton Biography: From His Early Career to His Rise to Hollywood Fame as an A-list Director
Aside from his filmmaking credits, he wrote and illustrated the poetry book The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories in 1997. He also published the compilation of his drawings entitled The Art of Tim Burton in 2009.
The Departed Movie Review: Fresh and Ferocious
Based on the popular Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs, this Hollywood version pulses with energy, strong dialogues and superb performances. The brilliantly written narrative is both grittingly relaxed and violently intelligent.
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.
Alice in Wonderland Movie Review: Overwhelming Visuals, Underwhelming Storytelling
Tim Burton’s individual stamp of masterful storytelling doesn’t seem to register here. And with its wavering tone, Burton and company should really dig a lot deeper if they soon decide to make a sequel.
Batman Begins Movie Review: A Great Beginning for the Dark Knight
Batman Begins is one classic Batman.
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.
Corpse Bride Movie Review: A Charming Grave Fairy Tale
Behind its eerie theme, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is fun, genial, expressive and charming. This semi-musical stop-motion animation celluloid baby is set at death’s door and salutes the liberating power of true love and sacrifice.
Sherlock Homes Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes Takes a Modern Slant
Sherlock Holmes is a visually stylish rush of adrenaline. Irreverent and yet true to the spirit as it is, this movie is both fun and numb, enjoyable and exhausting.
I am a big, big, big fan of Tim Burton. And “Alice in Wonderland” is one movie I’ve looked forward to for all these months. In as much as I totally love the dark, Expressionist Burton trademark (which is one of my top reasons of falling in love with the filmmaking spirit of Mr. Burton), “Alice” is a pretty disappointment.
Stylish but dispirited, style over substance, great visuals but lacking story, a feast for the eyes but not for the heart, teeming with marvelous sights but hollow at its core, overwhelming visuals but underwhelming storytelling, great canvas but not a great film… whatever I call it, this Disney movie is definitely not the masterpiece I hoped for. It looks more like a coffeetable book showcasing CGI greatness than cinematic storytelling at its finest. It’s not within the caliber of “Edward Scissorhands” nor “Big Fish.”
A Tim Burton interpretation of the Lewis Carroll classic is something intriguing and exciting. But shockingly, it just doesn’t work. It lacks the energy and emotional power to create the story more than just a vision inside the filmmaker’s head. Maybe it’s because of the pressure from the producers having to live up with that Disney or maybe mainstream mark that Burton loses his authentic touch to it. Interestingly, Burton is one of the producers as well. Needless to say, those shelling out the big bucks are the ones on top control, of course.
It’s still a feat given the visual effects, production design and art direction. The visual splendor is there. The other departments turn out mediocre. Generally, the dialogue can’t live up to the films look. Empty, atmospheric and lacking a soul, some individual pieces actually work at times, but it never works as a whole.
I appreciate Burton’s love for the character designs as he expresses them with such creative wizardry. The amazing offbeat aesthetics as individual pieces are whimsically great in its own dark and bizarre fashion. Ken Ralston’s visual effects are pleasantly surreal; Robert Stromberg’s production design is dazzling and fun. Dariusz Wolski’s photography is wonderfully magical. Yet all these can’t cover up the screenplay’s loopholes. It has its moments, but everything doesn’t fall into one coherent piece. Danny Elfman’s musical score has some magical parts, but it doesn’t transcend to wonderful heights. Chris Lebenzon’s cutting is considerably fine, but it doesn’t reflect the supposed marriage of a Burton vision and a Carroll story.
The performances are sometimes spot on, sometimes out of range. Overall, they don’t translate into a firm grip to let the audience relate to and sympathize with the characters. The film falls short in engaging with the motivation needed to drive the character arcs. From frequent Burton collaborators including Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, to first-time Burton collaborators Mia Wasikowska as Alice and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, they provide characters that work more on solo flights.
About its 3D version, unlike with a movie such as “Avatar,” this film doesn’t really work well for that immersive 3D experience. It seems to follow the path of “Up” (though “Up” is a very emotional, honest, and almost perfect film unlike this shallow visual feast) which is unable to give enough on the 3D aspect of it. It works at its best in 2D. And this could be attributed to the utilizing of the film language by all the film collaborators set to what they’ve been accustomed to way before the sudden demand for 3D stereoscopic productions. In the same way, this is another aspect to look into when considering the possible reasons why “Alice in Wonderland” is not able to go beyond the mere provision for atmosphere and visual splendor. It lacks that captivating spirit in 3D maybe because this format requires a specific sub-culture of storytelling standards to live up to its own immersive film sub-language. And to add to this is the fact that the technical requirements for filming in 3D is not entirely the same as the conventional filmmaking process done in 2D. The 3D here doesn’t look absorbing enough to recreate a new mythmaking factor for the film.
Burton’s individual stamp of masterful storytelling really doesn’t seem to register here. And with its wavering tone that is as uncertain as Alice’s decision-making, Burton and company should really dig a lot deeper if they soon decide to make a sequel.March 12th, 2010 Posted by Rianne | 3D, Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Children's/Family, Epic/Adventure, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Flicks, Hollywood Films | 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
My second 35mm film “Aninag” (Light’s Play), 15 mins., 2005May 26th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Children's/Family, Dance/Musical, Epic/Adventure, Fantasy, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films, Independent Films, Melodrama, My Films, Pinoy Films, Religion/Mystical/Supernatural, Surreal | no comments
My first 35mm film “Karsel” (Prison), 20 mins., 2003May 26th, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Film Noir/Expressionism, Independent Films, Melodrama, My Films, Personal/Expression, Pinoy Films, Surreal | no comments
May 22nd, 2009 Posted by Rianne | Children's/Family, Dance/Musical, Epic/Adventure, Fantasy, Film Noir/Expressionism, Films, Independent Films, Melodrama, My Films, Personal/Expression, Pinoy Films, Religion/Mystical/Supernatural, Surreal | no comments
A Superhero Noir: The Disturbed Vs. the Disturbing
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Caine, Maggie Gyllenhaal
“The Dark Knight” is a complex and violent tale with such an exquisite order in the chaos – between art and industry, poetry and entertainment. It is an explosively provocative film with straightforward action sequences collaborating with the character study and metaphor of what Gotham City is (both in the fictional world of its characters and the mundane world of its audience). It is a dark, disturbing, complex, ambitious, and visionary crime epic about people of courage, repressed love, firm dispositions, individual perspectives, and clashing egos.
Locked in a struggle for Gotham City’s soul, “The Dark Knight” transports the viewer to an alternate yet recognizable realm. This is matched by a kind of moral complexity that is not usually associated with comic book film franchises. Director Christopher Nolan lets the film’s spectacular action scenes seem like the natural consequences of the conflicts between characters; which is then parallel to the contemporary state of this age’s terrorism-obsessed actuality. The setting may be Gotham, but its landscape is transformed into a series of disquieting issues that effectively place the conflict between the tortured good and the contented chaos seen in the world’s past, present, and perhaps, even its future. Gotham stands in for any of today’s nations, superpowers, terrorism, and the rules of law and order. From these thematic explorations, it digs through the ideas of heroism, human nature, and fragile morality. Its riveting psychological thrill creates a masterful drama and tragedy shaking both the conscious and sub-conscious. And its disturbing darkness brings about the unconscious rants and raves of human hearts wrenched by the restraints of the society and the corrupt system that dominates it.
“The Dark Knight” weaves a high level of bond between the outcast hero and the outrageous criminal. Its emphasis on plot and character development is very much apparent especially if compared with most comic-book film adaptations. It goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-book kind with a diverse impact on art, literature, and human emotions. Indeed, with the uncontested hype and the exhilarated artistry of this pitch-black thriller, it is a rare pop-culture oddity that shall certainly keep both comics fans and uninitiated audiences equally happy. This film is subtle and powerful that it renews the audience’s faith in adaptations and sequels.
“The Dark Knight” is one of the most hyped movies to date with its marketing and promotion, the success of its predecessor (also crafted from Nolan’s aesthetic lead), the manic zest seen on the teasers/trailers especially of the late Heath Ledger’s The Joker, and the untimely death of Ledger who undoubtedly makes history with his jaw-dropping performance as the malevolent villain. Irregardless of the tragic loss of his life too early on, he has marked himself as one of the best classic villains ever to appear in film. For an acting talent tragically curtailed, it is rather a deeply felt loss that his life has come to an end at a very young age; but this film bringing such an extraordinary performance from him should be the best way to remember and acknowledge him.
This film earns much respect for Nolan’s creatively intelligent direction, he and his brother Jonathan Nolan’s engagingly psychological screenplay, Wally Pfister’s pin-sharp cinematography, Nathan Crowley’s brilliantly dark production design, Lee Smith’s formidable editing, and James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer’s zealous music. There are many excellent moments and action set-pieces from the initial shots of dizzying, vertiginous overhead scenes of glittering skyscrapers and minuscule streets to the electrifying fight scenes that exude modern wages of fear – everything is crafted with absolute brilliance that never runs out of fuel. The film’s energy is deeply felt until the credits begin to roll. Moreover, a delightful addition to the magnificent experience is a healthy amount of IMAX footage, which significantly adds to the thought-provoking meditation of being on a personal and gruesome tour of Gotham. Truly, the powerful technical and thematic elements, the huge IMAX sequences, and the endearing performances give this “Batman” a truly great commanding feel.
“Dark Knight” ably stands on its own with or without Nolan’s first offer of the franchise – “Batman Begins.” He has definitely crafted this newest “Batman” film with a remarkable impact that clearly presents the title character’s wavelength with a valuable understanding of how a crisis of such magnitude could affect good men trying to do the right thing. While the caped avenger stands for the good of Gotham in the place of the police force and its counterparts who are unable to keep up with their duties given the various circumstances, the questions of what is good and what is right become such genuine topics for debate and pondering.
Christian Bale plays such a well rounded Batman and Bruce Wayne. Countering him is Heath Ledger’s The Joker whose cruelty and cleverness becomes such a fearsome combination. Facing each other from opposite ends, they create a mesmerizing and unforgettable completeness to the story. They both turn in superb performances with a sensitivity of making their characters work together to make the best out of the already high quality material.
Bale continues to maintain both the elite gentleman demeanor and the intense and misunderstood cape crusader character in the world of crime and chaos.
Ledger’s manically creepy, unhinged, deranged psycho role takes evil to a new level. With The Joker’s anarchist mind, his ability to make a clown into the most terrifying character takes the audience’s psyche for a twirl in the same way as he gives both the cops and the crooks nightmares in the film. He remains mysterious with his every eye contact, every gesture, every delivery of words – all getting under the viewer’s skin the way they get into his victim’s throats. While providing humor amidst the terror, it is impossible to not have chills for the valuable screen time he has for the film. Some may say that his untimely death becomes the ultimate source of hype for The Joker, but I beg to disagree. And what makes everything more riveting is the fact that there is just no more chance for him to explore all the roles he could possibly tackle if he were still alive.
Aaron Eckhart is equally good as Gotham’s new District Attorney Harvey Dent. His transformation into Two-Face ably assumes the mantle of fine performance and characterization. Maggie Gyllenhaal deserves praise for taking over the role of Rachel Dawes from Katie Holmes as she provides such a strong-willed character blending perfectly with the rest of the characters in the film. Supporting roles including those of Gary Oldman as Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred, and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox all deliver tour de force performances to further solidify the film’s greatness.
As the film circles on Wayne’s weariness and loneliness, Harvey Dent’s transition into Two-Face, and The Joker’s mysterious heart and soul, this superhero story’s dark unpredictability goes beyond the typical epic standards. The characters are disturbed in their own ways, and they effectively extend their lives, issues, questions, and struggles to the audience.
“The Dark Knight” is every inch a classic superhero noir.September 2nd, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Classic, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
The Two Sides of the American Dream
By Rianne Hill Soriano
Ridley Scott solidly delivers a gritty and intense crime drama with ‘American Gangster.’
It may not be that groundbreaking and original in terms of concept and treatment, but Scott pumps it up with a fine dose of the grits and grinds of the 1970’s American drug wars. He cinematically retells a true-to-life story into a finely weaved cinematic tapestry about absolute corruption and its effects on the key players and the casualties of the crossfire. He recreates a story of the past and immerses the present audience into the intricate logistics of crime and drug pushing with the right pace and style for its long-form storytelling.
For all its familiar trappings, the drug world epic scale of ‘American Gangster’ makes a well-crafted account of the drug trafficking and police corruption in the early 1970s America. Though it suffers a bit from a slightly weak and convoluted first act, it takes surprising twists and turns after it – all the way to its simple and yet well-treated ending. It leverages its curve towards the unique qualities of the story and utilizes its nuances to push the best emotions for the film. Most likely, the cinematic version of Frank Lucas played by Denzel Washington may be quite softer than the real-life Frank, nevertheless, its creative license as a film offer doesn’t really go beyond what the film needs.
As a sprawling saga, ‘American Gangster’ tells an engaging story that can attract a significant audience. It’s an epic about crime and punishment with its bravura scenes having subliminal feel for myth. The film is packed with impeccable period elements and vast energy. It has a superb feel for its time and milieu and it utilizes the good aspects of the classic crime-gangster genre for a compelling film of enormous range and detail.
Ethnically diverse, ‘American Gangster’ successfully demonstrates a drug underworld organized like legitimate corporations – obsessed with competition, fair prices, and quality products – to the point where Lucas even lectures another drug pusher about the significance of ‘brand names’ and ‘trademark infringement’ in the heroin trade.
Amidst the gritty period atmosphere of 1970’s Harlem, the two powerhouse performances from main actors Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe effectively rule the screen. They both burrow deep into their characters without the cartoon crudeness and the put-on violence. Washington as the heroin kingpin Frank Lucas towers a steely grip form of interpretation to his character. He perfects his one acting face of mild displeasure and puts an ultimately valuable stamp onto this elegant man whose callousness alternates with his chivalry. Crowe as the solidly straight cop Det. Richie Roberts also renders first-rate acting while delivering his unbending and unshakable dedication for his job and the wretched personal life he deals with. And the rest of the cast bolsters such wonderfully diverse performances making the story work best for the film, and the film working best for the story.
‘American Gangster’ is a gripping double character study deftly contrasting a drug lord and a folk hero while presenting the American way of life of mobility, consumerism, and success. It presents how a heroin kingpin works with his most subtle and his most violent demeanors as a family member and a businessman, while his opposite in the society’s eyes, an ultimately straight NYPD crime buster dealing with his womanizing issues and his crooked personal life, keeps up with his role as a family man and a public servant. Indeed, this film makes keen observations on the systemic corruption and the personal attitudes of the people in the society. And it depicts the two sides of the so-called American dream.January 27th, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Action, Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Biopic, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Period/Historical, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
A bloody good musical
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall
‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ is another feat for auteur director Tim Burton. Visually expansive and imaginative, it has a razor-keen wit for its dark tale of vengeance – successfully marrying the flight and fancy of a musical and the grisly grimness of blood and goth. It takes pleasure in its own theatricality with a complete trust in the power of Stephen Sondheim’s music and the masterstroke of Burton’s signature visual style.
The film starts with a Burtonish trademark as a director and animator – an opening credits summing up the distinctively cynical, chill-inducing, blood-splattering cinematic operetta set in a spidery gothic world. It sets the mood for its mercilessly dark humor and oddly amusing tunes. It binds together the CGI and live action parts of the film quite admirably with the effective approach of Burton’s expressionist elements. From its operatic gruesomeness to its Victorian gothic moodiness, the consistently dark and foggy visuals create the right dose of menace as the murder, music, and ‘monsters’ become happily drenched in blood gore. And interestingly, when the characters break into songs, they become tailor fit to the world Burton has built.
As always, Burton’s work is filled with great imagination. Having the most outlandish extremes as a great storyteller, he keeps his very stylized pursuits without sacrificing the thematic and emotional elements. In this film, he has not allowed the lavishly dark production design, the fantastically haunting cinematography, and the elegantly thrilling music to dominate the storytelling. In fact, he utilizes all these to turn a great play into a great film. Burton creates a vast world that ideally sets off Stephen Sondheim’s grimly intricate lyrics with the right scale for his film version of the grandiose 1979 Broadway musical. He seems clearly in love with his material and makes the film strangely beautiful and beautifully strange at the same time. With a director without much stage experience, ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ is such a great feat for Burton – a perfect fusion of the filmmaker and his material where his bravura for his visuals stamps its way to offer such an unlikely pairing of musical and horror. Indeed, Burton brings ‘Sweeney Todd’ to life for his audience. The dark, disturbing pictures and the lilting melodies make for a mad synthesis that really suit the story, in a way that they both coincide and contrast each other. The city is literally dark, and yet, the people living in it are even darker. And the film has a wicked humor and characters initially showing ghoulishness but ultimately revealing themselves as sad and sympathetic. And more than the brooding gothic romanticism and throat-slitting mayhem, the macabre story goes beyond the gothic yarn of revenge and lost love – it is a venerable human story.
‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ is an interesting and invigorating stage-to-screen translation. It provides the audience with moments to get twisted, manipulated, repulsed, and entertained. The film benefits from Dariusz Wolski’s jaunty and swooping camera work and darkly whimsy lighting with a groundwork for a really discomfiting sense of horror and fantasy. The dismal sets, cartoonish gore, and the cheeky, good-looking splatter fest from production designer Dante Ferretti and his team carefully blend with the CGI works from the special effects department. Chris Lebenzon’s elegantly stylized and spasmodic editing is in par with the imagery, propulsive orchestrations to create an intoxicating blend of vengeance and madness. And the overall caustic, spider-blood visual scheme takes pleasure of the power of Sondheim’s gorgeously intricate rhymes and melody to make a fluid and dynamic story from the screenplay of John Logan, coinciding with the writings of Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler for the musical and Christopher Bond for the musical adaptation.
Burton’s uniquely collaborative relationship with his longtime lead actor Johnny Depp proves nothing less than film worthy. So goes with his off-screen and on-screen muse Helena Bonham Carter. The performances are pitched at just the right scale as fantastic morbid and fantastic sets, gorgeous costumes, and twisted CGIs all match the wry and maniacal characters of the film. Depp and Bonham Carter illustrate the psychological factors of their characters in subtle nuances – producing strongly deep emotional performances with stupendous rapture. As an actor, Depp is such a tour-de-force. Depp as the malevolent, ivory skinned serenading barber slitting throats in random really skirts along the edge of emotional chasm. He successfully incorporates Sweeney Todd into his own. From being once a pure man to his transformation into his darkest, most menacing persona, Depp makes Sweeney Todd disturbingly attractive. And his defining performance for the title role is convincingly one of his greatest. Indeed, with such a director-actor tandem of Burton and him, there is no role too great for Depp. Bonham Carter as the cheeky Mrs. Lovett is delightfully gruesome. Laced with morbid humor, she is equally charming in a dark and twisted way. Her meat pies are just as stuffed as her performance. Undeniably great performances are further strengthened by a number of great acting talents including: Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin, the true personification of evil in disguise of an elite member of the society; Sacha Baron Cohen as Signor Adolfo Pirelli; Timothy Spall as Beadle Bamford; Jamie Campbell Bower as Anthony Hope; Laura Michelle Kelly as Lucy; Jayne Wisener as Johanna; and Ed Sanders as Toby.
The outstanding singing performances from most of its gifted cast members have one main issue: the main performers are not great singers. It’s good Burton is witty enough not to make Sweeney Todd about the songs. Depp may not be a trained singer, but his voice is more than passable – and his mere presence as a great actor overcomes the singing limitations. Despite the considerably weak vocal works from Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett, this cutthroat musical effectively presents the story. They may not be carrying their tunes quite as impressively as a deadly sharp razor or as a truly delectable meat pie, but the film maintains such brilliance in storytelling.
Burton deconstructs and redefines Sondheim’s masterwork into a motion picture masterpiece. This uncanny film version is true to the composer’s original vision while being spectacularly cinematic as well. It is at once different from the play and yet not different at all – it is such a unique achievement. It makes the play’s already familiar fare into something that has awakened and inspired the audacious Burton. With a cinematic visual style paying homage to a truly ‘Grand Guignol-ish’ appeal, Burton’s morbid imagination transforms the piece into a cheerfully gothic morality tale. The source material plays right into his cinematic wheelhouse as the music and spirit of the original piece show the way in bringing to the fore all the additional aspects that the film can provide as a medium and art form. And Sondheim’s musical provides a deliciously demonic dalliance for a combination that is as engrossing as it is unlikely. It may be rare for a film to achieve a feeling of unequivocal, breathtaking transcendence, and yet, this film adaptation does just that.
‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ preserves best the corrosive power of Todd’s revenge. Its sense of tragedy and loss weighs heavily in its compelling story. Although not without some flaws, overall, it stays faithful to its own, uniquely haunted soul. And it serves as a satiric commentary on a human being’s greed, capitalism’s cannibalistic thrust, and human nature’s sense of vengeance.
This elegant slasher film glories in the gory. As a wickedly entertaining blood feast, it is hypnotic, brilliantly executed and positively electrifying. It breathes new life into the genre by dousing itself in buckets of blood spurting spectacles the way ‘300’ makes its own trademark blood spurts as its own glorious treat. It is a thoroughly entertaining gore-filled cinematic experience.January 21st, 2008 Posted by Rianne | Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Classic, Dance/Musical, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
A Morality Play
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris
Directed by: Ben Affleck
If it were really badly directed, it wouldn’t have worked. And somehow, it did.
Admirably dark and ambiguous, ‘Gone Baby Gone’ becomes a powerful exploration of the gray areas between means and ends. It promotes an unreserved affair that manages a morally complex look at deep themes and compromised convictions. Its risky maneuvers work for its procedural take on a talky, tense, and intricately woven urban opera about emotional and material greed.
‘Gone Baby Gone’ is a thinking man’s film. It is an absorbing and complex neighborhood noir where the moral tangles of the story open up issues pertaining to the devious side of human nature. This riveting crime drama based on a harrowing Dennis Lehane novel asks some powerful questions about the price to be paid for doing the right thing and what the right thing should be or can be or must be. A tortured morality play disguised as a murder-mystery, ‘Gone Baby Gone’ keeps the book’s thorny sense of morality while adding a living, breathing, and cinematic Boston atmosphere to the story. It is a carefully constructed ethical thriller with deeply etched characters and brilliant plotting recreate unlikely scenarios with passion, depth, and grace.
‘Gone Baby Gone’ has some obviously ragged edges. Its convoluted plotting and too many twists initially inhibit clarity and make some sense of contrivance with the storytelling. Yet, it is still a decent, serious film that is capably directed and very nicely acted. And despite its limitations and few false steps, this film is steeped in atmospherics as a gritty expose of the shady shards of right and wrong – making it a keenly observant film about life’s ambiguities and nuances. The underlying moral issues are handled delicately enough to keep things afloat within its sprawling story and it effectively imparts its message.
As a debut film for actor-writer Ben Affleck, the film has merits for taking the novel into new cinematic heights. He turns the story into an unexpected emotional sucker punch by allowing layers of details to work one after the other. He captures a sense of society lost in a solidly satiric form in the midst of its all out serious theme and treatment. Under his shrewd eye, the changing emotional climate sending the story off into several unexpected turns proves his storytelling ability. And although the film’s ‘whodunit’ becomes quite predictable, the actual journey of the characters within the framework of a two-hour film allows the moral ambiguity of the characters to have an impact. Indeed, this Boston-set tale of mixed motives, selfishness, and selflessness is strong on atmospherics and moral quandaries.
Affleck shows a real affection for performers and their work with the strong performances from its ensemble cast. By marrying an intense thriller with bigger issues and a three-dimensional lead in the person of the director’s younger brother Casey Affleck, the genuine moral complexity in the film is carefully developed. Early in the film, his portrayal as the young detective Patrick Kenzie is quite questionable. But as the story progresses, you get to see the spark of moral certitude creeping into his persona and his performance develops alongside the pro-acting stints of his acting colleagues including Michelle Monaghan as his steady partner and co-detective Angie Gennaro, Morgan Freeman as the compassionate police officer Capt. Jack Doyle, Amy Ryan as the lost girl’s almost-feral mother Helene McCready, Ed Harris as the straight-up senior officer Det. Remy Bressant, John Ashton as Bressant’s supportive partner Det. Nick Poole, Amy Madigan as the lost girl’s anxious aunt Bea McCready, Titus Welliver as the lost girl’s concerned uncle Lionel McCready, among others.
Ben Affleck’s helming debut shows how bleak, wretched, and depressingly realistic moral dimensions are. ‘Gone Baby Gone’ is a tightly controlled, carefully modulated piece of drama that will keep you thinking long after. It is an absorbing and gritty story that compels you to seriously think about the complicated and disturbing elements in the society.
‘Gone Baby Gone’ is a twisty, morally ambiguous film with a classic neo-noir artistry. Its morally challenged story creates a cinematic Boston of its own without going towards the path of the culturally incorrect. A suspenseful, well-acted thriller, this aptly directed crime tale haunts because it does not offer direct answers to the issues it raises. Just like in real life, things are complex and messy, and at certain times, there are uncontrollable situations caused by external factors. And all these make the film hard-hitting, meaningful, emotional, and resonating.November 30th, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Action, Adaptation and Films with Related Inspirations from Lit, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Hollywood Films, Suspense/Thriller | no comments
A heist picture to bank for
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher, Carla Gugino
Directed by: Scott Frank
The moody and brilliantly inventive crime caper ‘The Lookout’ has all the right elements of cinematic tension, engaging story, tight script, heartbreaking human insights, some comic relief, and solid acting. It is a well-crafted thought piece about a young adult coping with the consequences of his teenage aggressiveness when his personal brilliance and the greater future ahead of him vanishes forever due to his acquired physical incapacity. Perceptive and edgy as it is, the film becomes a skillful and compelling character study in the guise of a heist movie. It delivers a beautifully drawn contemporary noir tale of a young man trying to make sense of the future he has lost in a world that he has to learn all over again.
Debuting director and award-winning writer Scott Frank develops characters and layers details so well that this darkly engaging crime thriller also becomes a neo-noir drama and a taut psychological thriller. As director-writer, he sketches the film with a well-established structure that manages to balance subtlety with suspense. The characters are interesting and multidimensional. And though Chris Pratt’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) lookout role in the bank robbery is predicted, the film does a credible job of not signaling where the story is exactly heading as it ramps up with a number of plot swings and unexpected twists and turns.
Frank commands sympathy, affection, and understanding of his characters – boldly taking time to develop them to capture each one’s emotional and intellectual intensity and numbness without resorting to overly sentimental tactics. Treating the film with an unhurried pace, a riveting tone, a yielding musical score, a chilling winter-gray cinematography, and a well-conceived camera work, the small-town setting bows down to the compelling characterizations, the straight-ahead drama, and the poignant crime story.
Character-driven as it is, the elegantly written characters are played by an ensemble cast that greatly drives the story. With or without dialogues, the characters exude intricate humanness that grabs hold of the audience. The many shades of gray create a richly drawn script supported by sharp dialogues. Moreover, the film is populated by characters that can be easily imagined to exist in real life. It’s the characters and what they say and think that really matter. And with the topnotch performances of the actors and actresses, the film becomes a truly absorbing piece.
Fueled by yet another terrific performance, Gordon-Levitt delivers a touchingly nuanced portrayal of a disabled man fighting to win back his old life. He gives a thoughtfully convincing role as a damaged soul – earning the audience’s sympathy without artifice. He makes Chris’ erratic efforts pour such a heartbreaking resignation to what he has used to be and what he wants back. The blankness and minimalist reactions that he makes, as certain memories keep drifting away, ironically bring a certain depth, complexity, and sincerity for what isn’t there – which actually brings genuine things to get there. It could have been just another damaged guy role; but he delivers with such a compelling and star-turning performance that elevates such a perceptive and intelligent portrayal into a classic piece. Indeed, with the way he has executed his nuanced roles at this early stage of his career, and having a hugely appealing combination of a Keanu Reeves physicality, a Marlon Brando/Guy Pierce acting power, and a Johnny Depp capacity for offbeat roles, this young actor is definitely a rising star to watch out for.
The supporting emotional component hinges on the friendship between Chris and the blind but independent Lewis (Jeff Daniels). Their convincing onscreen relationship makes the film work its way forward. Talent and chemistry truly gives a splendid fusion. The character Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode) carries out such a human capacity for criminal action. Deputy Ted (Sergio Di Zio) convincingly plays a striking character that is full of heart and gusto. Luvlee’s (Isla Fisher) sunny role adds a certain commercial appeal that enlightens the dark tale for a bit. The rest of the supporting characters and even the bit players offer such a good mix of performances. However, Bruce McGill as Chris’ father Robert Pratt seems a little off due to their lack of physical resemblance, that during the exposition in the story, he actually strikes as if he is the father of the husband of Chris’ sister – more than being Chris’ own father.
With all the tight plotting and meticulous character building, ‘The Lookout’ is an effective genre picture. It is an effective homage to the kind of small-scale thrillers heading the classic route. It is simple and yet intricate. It is small and yet satisfying.August 3rd, 2007 Posted by Rianne | Classic, Crime/Gangster/punk, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Hollywood Films, Melodrama, Youth/Teenybopper | 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
Are you watching closely?
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Piper Perabo
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Director Christopher Nolan has handed himself a difficult task of tackling a complicated story about two cold, central figures. Indeed, the complex premise of the film ‘The Prestige’ becomes a good escalating battle of wits presented the ‘Nolan way.’ A dazzingly interesting narrative about two rival magicians from turn of the century London, ‘The Prestige’ revolves around the lives of Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale). They start a friendship that eventually turns into a rivalry after Rupert’s wife gets killed in a magic trick that has gone wrong. Since then, they start trying to discover each other’s secrets, and ruin each other’s tricks along the way. The story escalates further when Alfred discovers the ultimate trick of the ‘Transported Man,’ a trick that will make Rupert lose his mind just to decipher Alfred’s ultimate secret.
Dark, increasingly elaborate, complex, convoluted, contrived, and full of twists and turns, Nolan’s dark vision for ‘The Prestige’ becomes a workout for the audience’s mind. Filled with its labyrinth of conflicting ideas amidst the sincerest human emotions coming from the characters, the film is a mind-tickler that makes the viewer engaged with the story as s/he tries to penetrate its elegantly Victorian noir presentation to find out the film’s own ultimate trick. Underneath the film’s physicality lies some mundane truths about love, life, career, sacrifice, and revenge. The film may be set during the Victorian days, but the universal issues it exposes about rivalry and obsession make people relate to it very well. The film’s plot-heavy story and striking moments either leaves the viewer exhilarated or disturbed for many possible reasons.
Technically, the film is nothing less than brilliant. The time period portrayed is taken to perfection. The costumes and art direction are splendid. The effects look believable and seamless. The cinematography is stunning and validating. Indeed, the auteur in Nolan really surfaces in every film he makes.
Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan Nolan have collaborated on a powerful script with its non-linear pace complemented by the film’s impressive visual and aural composition. Many films become under-written or half-developed, but ‘The Prestige’ is the opposite – it’s almost too clever, that consequently, some people do not get to appreciate its entirety anymore. This film has its own audience really. Some may find it a cult classic of impressive cinematic magic; and yet, some may find it a ponderous tale that promises much, but in the end, delivers surprisingly little.
Those who find fulfillment in this kind of film can enjoy a great deal from it being a twisty thriller presented in a not so common ground – the dark and intelligent treatment Nolan is known for. They see an exemplary story with multi-faceted levels of artistry. From its sheer finery and elegant details both inside and out, it reaps value out of the question, ‘How did they do that?’ – figuring out how Nolan has done the rare magic trick to come up with the compulsively absorbing ‘The Prestige.’
Meanwhile, those who want light and easy stories may find a bit of a grind to it. They may tend to feel that the story loses its target with a wobbly second half and a grand finale not able to compensate. And others might think that despite the good acting and direction, the film’s ending seems feeble that it tends to render the entire movie losing much of its value – it entertains for a while, but it grows increasingly desperate as it reaches the third-act explanations.
The script is tough and filled with stunning twists. However, some people may criticize its ending. It’s not that the film is bad, it’s just that it doesn’t entertain in a completely feel good way. Some may find it not entirely or ultimately amusing and entertaining as many classic cinematic favorites, but basing it from a number of film theories, along with the film’s thematic and stylistic presentation, and technical style and treatment, it actually delivers well. But then again, ‘The Prestige’ is not a film for everyone. It is either ‘to be loved/enjoyed’ or ‘to be hated/unvalidated.’
The main weakness of the film is that the key characters seem too single-minded. It seems to lack a bit of gray areas. The said concern may be just toned to a minimum, but it’s still a weakness to be noticed on such an intelligent film about deception and rivalry. Uplifting the characters a bit further towards perfection could have avoided the barrage of half-baked revelations – that could have been more satisfying for both those seeking for deep and artsy values and those who are seeking for purely light entertainment.
Personally speaking, though I am a Nolan fan and I have seen a fairly good deal for this film, I have not completely looked up to it mainly because of one thing: I was able to predict its last two twists. I have related a bit of it with a French film I have seen a couple of months ago entitled ‘The Perfume of the Lady in Black’ (Le Parfum de la Dame en Noir) directed by Bruno Podalydes – a film based from the novel of Gaston Leroux about concealed identities and the mysteries of finding one’s identity and belongingness.
The performances are largely good. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman give out powerful performances. One man is confident and cool amidst the hustle and bustle of his struggling family and career life, while the other one is just losing his senses for his career, his only life. Getting into the lighter side of things, one may jokingly ask this question: ‘Who would win in a fight between Batman and Wolverine?’ But seriously, the great thing about ‘The Prestige’ is that it builds the characters Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden as the rival magicians and not the superhero images tattooed on the actors personas. Moreover, the entire cast delivers very well, too. The film features a solid performance from Michael Caine as Cutter. So goes with Andy Serkis as Alley and David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe provides another stellar performance as well. So goes with Rebecca Hall as Sarah. The short screen time of Piper Perabo as Julia McCullough also works well. And Samantha Mahurin is effective with her little girl character as Jess.
When you are watching this film, you’d better be watching really closely. As the movie has reiterated both in its dialogues and its actual form, every magic trick consists of three acts: ‘The Pledge,’ ‘The Turn,’ and the ‘Prestige.’ And if you’re taking the film’s first words to your heart – Are You Watching Closely?’ – you’ll probably get to appreciate the film, and probably get really rewarded by it.
October 30th, 2006 Posted by Rianne | Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Hollywood Films, Period/Historical, Suspense/Thriller | one comment
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 Charming Grave Fairy Tale
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Featuring the voices of: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman Directed by: Tim Burton, Mike Johnson
Official Movie site
Tim Burton’s ‘Corpse Bride’ presents a morbid and romantic trip in between the cold dwelling of the living and the colorful underground world of the dead. Behind its eerie theme, it is fun, genial, expressive and charming. This semi-musical stop-motion animation celluloid baby is set at death’s door and salutes the liberating power of true love and sacrifice.
Tim Burton, along with co-director Mike Johnson, ventures into the world of stop-motion animation in this film – such a tedious job of hand-manipulating characters moving incrementally and shot frame-by-frame. For you to have an idea of how tedious the work is, may I share a bit of the technical side of doing it – a film as a moving picture. Each picture is shot. Each shot becomes 1 ‘frame.’ From 1 frame to another, the movements are incrementally shown over a certain period of time. For a television show, there are generally 30 fps (frames per second). In film, there are 24fps. Taking it from here, you can just imagine shooting each frame of the Corpse Bride: 24 shots to be done for a 1-second clip of the film, 48 shots for a 2-second clip, and so on. Each frame is carefully shot: human hands carefully moving the different parts of the body of each character as Victoria (voice of Helena Bonham-Carter) for 1 frame, then move all her body parts very incrementally to shoot the next frame and make sure it complements the previous movement. Come to think of it – the mere raising of her hands (which is worth 1 or 2 seconds of the entire film) pays a work for 24 or 48 frames each carefully shot by a certain type of camera and aided by dexterous hands moving the subject creatively and effectively (Trivia: According to IMDB.com, the filmmakers have used commercial digital still photography cameras – 31 Canon EOS-1D MARK 2 SLR cameras with Nikon Lenses – instead of film cameras in making this opus).
The story revolves around a young groom-to-be who mistakenly weds a girl from the grave and complicates his upcoming marriage to a woman he has just known. The directors paint death as a more colorful plane of existence than life as literally shown on the visuals: a bitterly cold presentation of the world of the living as compared to the colorful and musically vivid world of the rotting flesh. It turns out more life is there at the dead’s company… The engaging story, the expressionistic visuals and the heart for the very statement it wants to insinuate make an overall witty animated tale. It is whimsical yet eerie, funny but melancholic. In a light, side-splitting note, it promotes a necrophiliac entertainment which can find a good place on the hearts of people who like watching a pile of bones set in an ironic and animated piece – whether or not it is Halloween season.
The musical score by Danny Elfman (just like Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter who are considerably Burton’s faves) makes a delightful mix of flight of fancy for the film. A stylistic and touching moment to create a more human tone on the love story is shown in many ways as the accurately presented piano scene of Victor and the Corpse Bride. Overall, the musical parts are very flourishing. As usual, Burton’s team makes up a new world out of the dark and expressionistic style Burton is known for.
The story is not as refined as the usual art-house screenplays. But this film makes a poetic form out of what it has. Its minor flaws are quite overlooked as the eyes roll over the ‘Burtonesque’ style of storytelling. Its imaginatively done puppetry promotes a dark and grand fairy tale brimming with quirky characters and gothic sets.
This film is a darkly enchanting tale about the celebration of love that is told in a quirky, gothic and ironic style. It has the courage to address issues about love and sacrifice and life and death in a shadowy, poetic and creative way.July 11th, 2006 Posted by Rianne | Animation, Fantasy, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Hollywood Films, Personale | no comments
Kodak Supports Filipino Program with Thesis Award, Career Talk Series
Kodak Philippines has built bridges to student filmmakers at the University of the Philippines with two programs that support student filmmaking and help prepare graduates for the world of work. The KODAK Film Award is presented annually for the outstanding thesis film produced on 16 mm or 35 mm Kodak film. Kodak also sponsors a Career Talk each semester for undergraduate filmmakers.
The KODAK Film Award
The 2003 KODAK Film Award winner is Rianne Hill Soriano, who submitted the program’s first 35 mm film. Karsel is a 20-minute narrative film that traces a classic plight of women. It delves into a young adult female’s submission to the conventions of a traditional home and her struggle for liberation. In Soriano’s film, the lead character’s hair comes to symbolize her struggle with strong visuals.
“Angela’s hair symbolizes her mother’s complete authority over her, the strands of her hair becoming the bars of a cage on her face, exemplifying her imprisonment,” the filmmaker says. “I love taking charge of the camera work. With this being my first 35 mm film, it was a real challenge for me to perfect crucial scenes demanding intense and uncompromising performances.”
Karsel was shot primarily on Kodak Vision 500T color negative film. “With most of the scenes and the debut sequence, I wanted to really saturate the colors,” Soriano says. “We also shot some scenes that were intended to be push processed at LVN Pictures, which donated free processing, printing and editing resources.”
She edited the film on a Moviola – her first experience with the machine. “It was tough yet rewarding to be the director and editor of your own film,” she says.
The KODAK Film Award was created in 2000 in partnership with the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications Film & Audiovisual Department to help promote the use of film and recognize outstanding graduating students. The award is open to all graduating students of the Film & Audiovisual Communication Department. The winning film is selected by the thesis defense committee, composed of faculty from the Film & Audiovisual Communication Department. The winner receives P $30,000.00 worth of film stock and a plaque.
“The KODAK Film Award is one of many Kodak-sponsored activities designed to recognize and reward the efforts of students in film production and to encourage them to excel,” said Jane Albito, business manager for Kodak’s Entertainment Imaging division in the Philippines.
Career Talk Series
For Career Talk, distinguished members of the industry are invited as guest speakers to share their career experiences and growth. The guest speakers include directors, cinematographers, executive producers, and representatives from post-production. The objective of the program is to provide the graduating class an overview of the local entertainment industry and career options as they transition to the real world.
Speakers at this year’s event, held March 11, included cinematographers Shayne Sarte-Clemente and Nap Jamir; director Mac Alejandre, and several graduates of the University of the Philippines, including director Sockie Fernandez, supervising producer Brenda Bayhon and director Jeffrey Jeturian.
Kodak initiated the Career Talk program in October 2002, as part of the Student Program. “Our message to the students is that Kodak, which has been supporting their film education, will remain a partner as they embark on their respective careers,” Albito said.
In March 2003, the University of the Philippines created the UP Film Institute (UPFI) by merging the College of Mass Communication’s (CMC) Film & Audiovisual Department and the Film Center. With the merger, UPFI will become one of the College of Mass Communication’s academic units and will offer bachelors degrees in film, masters in media studies, and manage the 800-seat theatre that will continue to be the primary venue for film screenings.July 11th, 2006 Posted by Rianne | Film Noir/Expressionism, Films, Independent Films, My Films, Personale, Pinoy Films, Women | no comments
A great beginning for the Dark Knight
by: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Michael Cane
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Date: 6/13/2005 2:57:39
Batman Begins explores the origins of Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) emergence as Batman and brings back the essence of what drives him to be who he is. This story goes back to the roots of the character, portraying a confused and angry Bruce Wayne who rises to redeem himself and defend Gotham. Human emotions as love, fear and anger begin a new face for the Dark Knight as a cinematic and yet realistic film. This makes his character more human than the rest of the Batman films of the past – this time, the film justifies the idea that Batman is still ‘just a man’ under the black costume, still has his vulnerable side, gets bruises, feels pain – not just any superhero without a decent human past to show.
Director Christopher Nolan bases this film in reality and makes it focus on Bruce Wayne’s descent into the masked crusader. It focuses on the back story of the young, disillusioned Wayne who gets the trauma of his parent’s death, to his revenge and fear-stricken years of training at the Asian prison and the League of Shadows, to his immersion to the nasty crime and poverty scenes of Gotham, until his final preparations to become the soon-to-be legend Batman.
Fear as a universal emotion that is one of the hardest to conquer evolves along with Bruce Wayne’s character in the story. Vengeance contributes to the dark and emotional side of it. And along with the anger, thirst for justice and struggle from various crime and poverty problems, these negative forces turn up as challenges for him to become the hero he is about to be born – seeking the means to fight injustice and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. Even the scenes with the bats themselves finally get across the idea of how scary they can be – both literally and figuratively.
Wayne uses his strength, his skills, his intellect and his wealth to become Batman. The story introduces the whys and hows this time, not just making the Bat mobile suddenly pop out of nowhere without knowing its ultimate source. Its technology may be fantastic and really ambitious, but it’s believable enough still… who knows, such might be possible in a few decades time or so. There is that emotional bond between him and Alfred (Michael Caine), his trusty butler. A former friend of his father, the tech genius Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman), becomes the answer to his “techie” needs to be the savior of Gotham, the city under the weight of great corruption and crime. He acquires his body armor, gadgets and equipment to make him fly like a mysterious, scary bat around the streets of Gotham from him. Lucius and Alfred play important roles guiding Wayne with knowledge, gadgets and the heart for things. Wayne comes up with ideas and the complete development of his symbol and costume through their help. Understanding where they all have come from, the emotional baggage, the background training, the Bat mobile, Bat signals, and everything about Batman, all become more acceptable.
The firm, authoritative, imposing and naive Ducard (Liam Neeson) recruits Wayne to the shadow-ninja clan led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). A man driven by anger, he mentors Wayne with thoughts including: “Your anger gives you great power, but if you let it, it will destroy you;” “To conquer fear you must become fear;” and “Devote yourself to an ideal.” The training strengthens Wayne physically, emotionally, intellectually and psychologically, and he gets into his senses and builds up his own individualistic philosophies, which becomes far from what the clan tells him so – he readily matures and realizes it is time to go back to Gotham and defend it from its own menaces, along with Ducard’s group.
Batman’s first mad nemesis, the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), has that great charisma on screen. His development from being Jonathan to the thorough unleashing of his bad side as the Scarecrow paves way to a good character development. Wayne also makes a connection with the young Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), one of the only straight cops in the city. Katie Holmes looks like a teenager playing grown-up. The problem is not merely with her overall performance, but simply because she looks like a teeny-bopper movie actress still while portraying the role. Ironically, the poor character aging for Alfred is another problem then. Since the death of Wayne’s parents to Wayne as a full-fledged Dark Knight, there is no much change on his physical appearance, same old, responsible and concerned butler and friend to the Waynes.
The action-packed scenes start from the middle as Batman has finally been born. But the fight scenes aren’t too well choreographed, or maybe it’s not just with the choreography, but with the editing and the wrong chops, which makes the choreography look not that good on screen. The juxtaposition of cuts is not too well for built up for emotions and action thrills. It lacks distinct focus as the camera angles are too tight on the action and edited too quickly that much of the details tend to be lost.
The story is intense, gripping and dark. There is an interesting story development. Nolan’s treatment brings about this certain psychological element that Batman fans can enjoy. The tone of the film stresses a serious Batman film, more likely to be appreciated by those who have grown up with the Batman films of decades ago and has now grown up to be great adult Batman fans. With the children of the present, it is still to be enjoyed but in a more realistic fashion than the idealistic way as the past good Batman film as that of the great Tim Burton. Burton’s Batman was expressionistic, cartoony and idealistic in many elements, hence, more enjoyable to the kids’ eyes.
Batman Begins (which still retains that comic book mood and is still filled with a myriad of gadgets and movements) is the most emotion-filled Batman movie to date. Here, Batman is the film’s star. It does not fall into the prey of using too much special effects to come up with great visuals by getting too focused on the various capabilities of the villains and the machines, but it provides great attention to the questions on the emergence of Bruce Wayne and Batman. The character’s vulnerability is much more present. Every bruise, every scare, every concern, every emotion seems real and human. All these have been greatly weaved by Nolan, a director of the dark films as this prequel…
Batman Begins will be one classic Batman movie.July 5th, 2006 Posted by Rianne | Epic/Adventure, Film Noir/Expressionism, Film Review, Films I Like, Heroes/Superheroes, Hollywood Films, Personale | no comments
You can view my other works at my Youtube account.
Check out my film and travel articles in Yahoo! Movies and other Yahoo! sites
Check out my film articles as an Examiner
Need a production house? Colorwheel Media Studios.