Monday, October 10, 2011

The Way Home

Director : Lee Jeong-hyang

Writer : Lee Jeong-hyang

Stars : Kim Eul-boon, Yu Seung-ho

Rating : 4 Stars

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The New York Times has described this 2002 film as “a charming fable”, and indeed The Way Home (Jibeuro) is laden with lessons not so unlike Aesop’s tales. It is a story of a septuagenarian and her spoiled 7-year-old grandson Sang-woo, the latter dropped off to his grandmother’s care so that his mother (a single parent) can seek employment in the city. Sang-woo’s dislike of the situation is understandable. Born and raised in the city, he hates the tedious circumstances and since it’s his first time to meet her it is difficult for him to understand, much less appreciate, his illiterate and deaf-mute grandmother.

A serene old lady who has lived her whole in the rural outskirts of the country and a sharp-tongued city kid is an interesting dichotomy. Sang-woo is used to fast food (Spam and KFC) and modern technology (video games) while his grandmother relies on antiquated stove, chamber pot and the small comforts her little shack houses . From this premise you should expect some sort of a clash, but you’d be pleasantly surprised that the clashes between these two different backgrounds are neither filled with hysterics nor histrionics as most films nowadays tend to highlight.

The fact that only the character of Sang-woo is played by a professional actor makes the film more believable, with no artificial and overplayed scenes. Kim Eul-boon, the grandmother, is au naturel. Her kind smile on her wrinkled face and her gnarled hands doing chores speak her love for her grandchild.

The plot has no convoluted twists and turns. It is as beautiful and simple as the picturesque South Korean countryside, the locale of the film. Its message is resoundingly clear and that is humility, patience, and love act as attrition to such negative values as emotional apathy and intolerance. But important also is the latent issue revealed by the film – the strain of modern living on family and morality. Undeniably, there is that lure of modern culture and its newfangled conveniences – fast food, smart gadgets and other tangible things. But, alas, when you grab the lure there’s bound to be repercussions: single parenthood, loss of values, and severance of familial ties and affection.

No doubt about it, this movie is a tearjerker. Who would not shed a tear when a stooped elderly woman treks a hill to provide food and comfort to a disrespectful grandson? Who would not be moved by a scene of the grandmother spending her meager earnings by selling vegetables to buy her unappreciative grandson a pair of shoes? But the film has its share of funny moments too and the catharsis is so heartfelt that it leaves you breathless for a long while. Writer-director Lee Jeong-Hyang, being a woman herself, understands the depth and infinite sacrifice of maternal love and that is why The Way Home comes across as an utterly credible and poignant story.

Rango – An animated film with a tail, er, tale to tell

Director: Gore Verbinski

Writers: John Logan (screenplay), Gore Verbinski (story)

Stars: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Timothy Olyphant

One of the films worth lining up for this year is the computer-animated film Rango. Johnny Depp, Timothy Olyphant, Ned Beatty, and Abigail Breslin are among the artists who lent their voices to this comedy with the title role voiced by (of course) Depp.

I think no one is more fit to the role of the chameleon Rango than Depp. Depp is known for his “chameleonic” roles from Edward Scissorhands to Donnie Brasco to Chocolat’s gypsy Roux. And who would forget the character of slightly gay and perennially drunk Captain Jack Sparrow? This actor, who’s been nominated as the sexiest man alive by many magazines by many times over, can easily lend credence to myriad portrayals including out-of-this-world characters. He’s also worked on several animated features notably with his pal Tim Burton coming with The Corpse Bride and Alice in Wonderland.

The film is the latest team-up of Depp and director Gore Verbinski with the two of them working together in the Pirates of the Caribbean enterprise. I’ve seen the trailer plus some behind-the-scenes teaser of Rango, and it sure looks like this one’s loaded with comedic sequences and great CIG effects.

The plot revolves around Rango which is described by online sources as a household chameleon pet with an identity crisis. Through bizarre series of circumstances he finds himself outside his terrarium. His adventure takes him to the Mojave Desert in a little town aptly called Dirt, a place apparently populated by a lot of misbehaving desert creatures. This green lizard, always thinking himself as a hero, appoints himself as lawman which goes after the town’s bad critters. Considering he’s from a secluded world and ends up way, way out of his comfort zone I would expect laughs when he’s faced with the swirling dust and miscreants of the desert world.

Rango hits US theaters this March. To see the trailer, click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-OOfW6wWyQ.

Most

Director : Bobby Garabedian

Writer : William Zabka

Stars : Vladimir Javorsky, Linda Rybova, Lada Ondrej

Rating : 4 Stars



Compelling is the word that best describes the Czech film Most (The Bridge in English), which is a tale about a father and his beloved son. The father is a drawbridge operator while the son is an eight-year-old schoolboy. A mother figure is absent making the bond between the two main characters stronger.

The film starts with the introduction of the main protagonists in a train station: the father (Vladimir Javorsky), and son (Lada Ondrej), and a young woman (Linda Rybova). The woman will be eventually revealed as a drug abuser. Other characters include the sea of faces boarding the train – a soldier, a boisterous group of young men and women, an American guy with his girlfriend, among others.

As the film progresses the son convinces his father to take him to his workplace despite the cold weather. There at work an accident occurs and a far more tragic one results. The father has to make a painful choice. Who will he choose? Will he choose his child’s life over a train full of strangers, including that of the drug abuser? The audience is with the father as he makes the decision.

It is a heart-wrenching film, one that would require a box of tissues from the faint of hearts. Most is undoubtedly a tearjerker, but director Bobby Garabedian is able to veer the narrative from over sentimentality as the film does not dawdle – it only runs for 33 minutes. However, there is no abruptness either both in the building of characters and in the relating of plot. In fact, most the scenes are shot in slow motion resulting to dreamlike sequences. Thumbs-up to producer/screenwriter William Zabka for giving the audience a short but meaningful viewing experience.

Most relates a strong moral message thus it is now widely used as an evangelical tool by many Christian groups. One critic described Most as a film with “unabashed soulfulness” with an unmistakable parallel to one beloved son sacrificed to save mankind. But it does not matter if you’re religious or not to appreciate this Academy Award nominee because it is about human experience, particularly at life’s crossroad where you have to make a difficult choice.

To compensate for the language barrier it is subtitled, and what the language fails to accomplish great acting is there to effectively fill in the gap. The actors’ eyes and demeanor convey every intense emotion – fear, sorrow, joy, enlightenment. Definitely, you will not see this movie for entertainment value; you will see it for its message and cinematic excellence.

The Road

Director : John Hillcoat

Writers : Cormac McCarthy (novel), Joe Penhall (screenplay)

Stars : Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert

Duvall, Guy Pearce, Molly Parker

Rating : 4 Stars

Few films are able to translate great literary sources into visual success. Audience disappointment usually comes due to high expectations – superbly written works transformed into dismal flicks. John Hillcoat’s interpretation of The Road, however, proves to be one of the rare exemptions to this celluloid rule.

Written by Cormac McCarthy, The Road is a post-apocalyptic tale that relates the perilous journey of a father and his son. What ended the world as we know it is unnamed as the event is only described as “…clock stopped at 1:17, there was a long sheer of bright light, then a series of low concussions” at the beginning of the film.

The Road has the ingredients of most movies of this genre – cannibalistic marauders, lifeless vistas, and the breakdown of morality amongst the few remaining inhabitants. But what keeps it apart and above the rest is its believability. Most viewers of this genre would usually shake their head at the impossibility of events following a certain cataclysmic event and probably would say, “This is not going to happen”. But The Road, in both its written and visual forms, attracts believability and elicits the question “What if this really happened?”

You don’t have to read the novel to appreciate the film but it will be a better viewing experience if you do. Both versions relay the strong bond between father and son (both unnamed in the book and film), the physical and emotional hardships they endure in order to survive, and both present the grim and scary prospect of the end-of-the-world scenario. The film’s cinematography is superb with the landscapes perpetually gray, cold, and desolate. Some scenes were shot in Louisiana in its post-Katrina state.

The man (played by Viggo Mortensen) and the boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) head towards a warmer climate, where it is hoped life exists. So they push southward towards the sea, and they are pushing before them a rickety supermarket trolley that carries their meager possessions and what little food they are able to scavenge along the way. If you happened to be drinking from a soda can with you while watching the film you’d feel really, really blessed.

Keeping alive and sane is a struggle for the two main characters. In the man’s possession is a gun with two bullets – the gun is both a flimsy safeguard against attackers and, more disturbingly, a weapon for their self-annihilation. The mother, played by Charlize Theron, loses the struggle as witnessed in film’s flashbacks.

Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall so sternly adhered to the Pulitzer-winning prose so don’t expect an overly sentimental film that delivers catharsis towards the end. True to its literary source, what you’ll get from The Road is mostly a foreboding and brutish viewing experience despite a hint of salvation at the film’s final scene. Guaranteed, however, are superlatives with regards to acting, cinematography, and scoring. Both Hillcoat and Penhall take the road less travelled; that is, coming up with a film that is valued for its aesthetics rather than its pecuniary performance at the box office.

McCarthy is a rich resource of Hollywood screenplays with other two of his novels, All The Pretty Horses and No Country For Old Men, translated into the big screen. Another novel, Blood Meridian, is tentatively due in theaters this year produced by Scott Rudin and written and directed by actor Todd Field.

A warning though for those who dislike religious references as you might find yourself squirming in your seat while watching some scenes of The Road. The boy, for example, is described as the one “carrying the light (inside)” and can be identified as the modern-day messiah. Also, Robert Duvall’s character The Old Man Ely, which by the way is the only named character in the film, has its biblical parallel in the name of – yes, you guessed right – the prophet Eli.

Hachiko: A Dog Story – A true tale (and a true tearjerker)


Director: Lasse Hallstrom

Writer: Stephen Lindsey

Stars: Richard Gere, Joan Allen, Jason Alexander, Sarah Roemer

Rating: 4 stars

If you’re a dog lover, then Hachiko: A Dog Story is probably the best movie you should watch over the weekend. This film chronicles the life of Hachiko – from a cute pup to a very active and loyal canine. He’s shipped from Japan to someone in America but gets inadvertently lost in a crowded train station. That is where a college music professor Parker Wilson (played by Richard Gere) finds the pup.

The professor takes an instant liking to him and since no one’s willing to take care of the cute dog, least of all the station’s manager (Jason Alexander), he takes it home with him. The professor’s daughter (Sarah Roemer) is also immediately taken with the cuddly canine but the bad news is his wife (Joan Allen) does not want a pet in the house. So the professor is forced to get rid of the dog by offering it to friends and even distributing lost and found posters. But days go by and no one’s getting the dog out of his hands. Soon Hachiko (fondly called Hachi) grows more attached to the professor and vice versa and the wife, seeing the growing bond between the master and the dog, finally accepts the boisterous presence of Hachiko into their home.

As time passes by Hachiko becomes a constant companion to the professor. The dog does everything to be with the professor – either jumping over fences or digging under them to follow his master to the station where he regularly commutes. The professor eventually gives up in restraining the dog, until the two of them walking to and from train station becomes a familiar but always an interesting sight to passengers and locals. It becomes a routine: Hachiko walking the professor to the station, going home and then returning to the station to wait for the professor’s arrival at 5pm.

But then the professor suffers a fatal stoke and the professor’s daughter decides to take the dog to live with her and her husband. But Hachiko has other ideas. Unable to comprehend the situation, or perhaps unwilling to accept the fact that his master is gone, he escapes and lives along the railway. Every morning he walks to the station and goes there every afternoon at exactly 5pm to wait for the professor’s arrival. Hachiko sits and waits, facing the station’s doors, hoping to catch a glimpse of his master. He’s there as seasons change, patient and ever loyal as autumn leaves and snow fall around him.

I would not recommend this film for your children to watch without your guidance. It’s not some other dog stories, like Bolt or Beethoven, which would greatly entertain little tots. Hachiko: A Dog Story delves on “mature” topics, particularly death and loneliness, and this film will definitely saturate your tear ducts (my brother who considers himself a toughie admitted that he’s been a cry baby when he saw Hachiko). But very much suitable to children is the main message of this film – love, loyalty, and kinship.

This film was inspired by a true story originating from Japan in 1924 at the Shibuya train station. A bronze statue of Hachiko now stands at the station to recognize this dog’s unfailing loyalty to his master.

Hachiko: A Dog Story was released in US theaters in 2009. It was directed by Lasse Hallstrom, the helm behind critically-acclaimed films My Life As A Dog and The Cider House Rules.

When In Rome – An unforgettable film (well, sort of)

When In Rome – An unforgettable film (well, sort of)
Posted on January 25, 2011 by abigail
Director: Mark Steven Johnson

Writers: Mark Steven Johnson, David diamond, David Weissman

Stars: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Sheppard, Danny Devito

Rating: 1 Star

There are two kinds of unforgettable films – those you won’t forget because of their cinematic greatness and then there are those that stick to the deepest recesses of your memory for their lameness. One such film of the latter kind is Touchstone Pictures’ release When In Rome. If you google the Top Ten Worst Films of 2010, When In Rome will definitely be on everyone’s list. It’s supposed to be a romantic comedy, but it falls short in eliciting laughs from the audience because of unfunny gags and trying-hard-to-be-funny characters.

The film is about a beautiful woman who excels in her career but sucks in the romance department. Sounds familiar, right? Only much-thought comedic sequences can compensate for such a trite plot, and unfortunately writer/director Mark Steven Johnson et al fail to come up with (not even) passably funny gags.

When In Rome stars Kristen Bell as art curator Beth and Duhamel as Nick Beamon, the hunky yet clumsy man who falls for pretty Beth. They seem to hit it off when they meet in the romantic city of Rome where Beth’s sister is getting married. And Beth, who apparently has given up finding the perfect partner, is willing to take a chance with Nick but catches him kissing a woman. Disappointed and drunk she frolics in the “fountain of love”, and there and then decides to take the coins plus a poker chip thrown by people who evidently want some romance luck. The result? The owners of the coins magically fall in love with her.

Instantly, she becomes the target of four ardent admirers played by Heder, Sheppard, Arnett, and DeVito. Her admirers follow her to New York resulting to (oftentimes mirthless) chaos until she discovers that to break the spell she has to return the coins to the owners. But, alas, the coins are stolen from her! Her mission? Take back the coins with the help of her suitors, and finally returns them to her enthusiastic groupie. And the poker chip? The chip is the catch in the story.

Beth, who realizes that she has fallen in love with Nick, thinks that the chip belongs to Nick and thus he’s never been truly in love with her. After some twists and turns, which fail to maneuver the film into an interesting rom-com ending, the couple finally ties the knot and good, ol’ Nick proves his love to Beth in the same fountain where it all started.

When In Rome is probably the reason why Duhamel acted like a douchebag late last year during his flight to Kentucky. He reportedly refused to turn off his phone after repeatedly being asked by the flight crew. Can’t blame the guy. I mean, if you starred in a film like When In Rome, you’d probably be in uncooperative mood for a long time.

Out of 5 stars, When In Rome receives a star. The rating is as puny as the car the characters have squeezed into in one of movie’s failed attempts to be funny.

Inception

Inception
Posted on January 31, 2011 by abigail
Director: Christopher Nolan

Writer: Christopher Nolan

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tome Berenger, Michael Caine, Ken Watanabe

Rating: 4 stars

The first word that comes to mind after watching Inception is “cerebral”. This is not only because the film concerns the mind and the subconscious, but also due to the fact that it requires concentrated viewing and gray matter exertion. This means that you cannot nod off or else miss the gist of it and likely to say “I don’t follow”. It’s not like a Chuck Norris film when you only have to watch the last 5 minutes of it but still can precisely summarize the plot.

It’s hard to offer a plot summary of this film, and my advice is you have to see it in order to grasp and appreciate its cinematic genius. But let me give you a gist of this highly acclaimed sci-fi flick.

DiCaprio’s character Dom Cobb and his gang are dream invaders, “entering” the mind of their target to influence their action in the real world. Cobb is hired by an influential businessman Mr. Saito (Watanabe) to target the son of his competitor. At first Cobb rejects the proposal but Saito makes him an offer he cannot resist – re-entry to the United States for a chance to be with his children. Cobb has escaped the country as a wanted man for the death of his wife.

In the dream state is where the “real” action takes place, where time and space is manipulated. To make the plot more convoluted and interesting, there are the customary twists and turns. There is the state called “limbo”, wherein the dream invaders can fall into eternal slumber. There are also the “projections” aka Sub Cons, which are manifestations of people or objects of the dreamer’s subconscious mind. Basically what these Sub Cons do is to fight off trespassers, so much like the human body’s antibodies as they attack invaders.

Inception gives the audience great visuals, gravity-defying stunts, and mind-boggling plot. Oh, and nice suits, too – Gordon-Levitt looks (surprisingly) yummy in tux! Expect also a not-so-straightforward ending, which means you draw your own conclusion. Will Cobb’s totem – a top – stop spinning or not? A “totem” is the characters’ keepsake to distinguish between reality and dream. If the top continues on spinning, it means Cobb is in limbo. Up until now, online film forums are still agog with discussion about its final scene. This type of ending is also seen in Christopher Nolan’s 2001 film Memento, which starred Australian Guy Pearce. Memento is highly recognized for its multi-layered plot and innovative narration.

The only downside I see with Inception is its looong running time, that if not for the unbelievable stunts some viewers would have fallen asleep to maybe join Cobb and his gang in the dream state. Nolan’s films normally clock more than two hours (most remarkably the Batman projects), and Inception is definitely not an exception.

If you like The Matrix, you would definitely give a thumbs-up to Inception. And if online surveys are to be relied on, this movie could be the Oscars’ Best Picture this year. But I think it will have a tough time taking home the statue come awards night. My bet for that category is between Winter’s Bone and The King’s Speech.