Friday, July 31, 2009

Mostly Martha & No Reservations

No Reservations is a near frame by frame Hollywood adaptation of the German film, Mostly Martha. NR stars Catherine Zeta-Jones, Abigail Breslin, and Aaron Eckhart. MM stars Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others), Maxime Foesrste, and Sergio Castellitto (Don't Move--a film which I watched in my film class that I still have to review).

I first watched NR in theatre and thought was a good romantic comedy. It had its funny parts like when Abigail throws away the black truffles that she thought was trash and the scene where Catherine sticks the raw steak onto the table of the patron who kept complaining. These two scenes, which are my favorites of the film, are not as well done in the German version. The truffle scene is just a part of a montage that shows the days when Maxime was at work with Martina. And the raw steak scene is not as dramatic or as funny.

The chemistry between the actors of both films had their own problems of various degrees. Catherine, Abigail, and Aaron together are okay. There is some love chemistry between Catherine and Aaron but it did not really work out in the beginning. It did get a bit better towards the end during the dinner at Catherine's house and when Aaron helps search for Abigail. Unfortunately, in MM, the chemistry never ever worked in addition to Maxime appearing to be an unlovable child.

I will, however, say that I thought the individual performances of Martina and Sergio are great and better than those from Catherine and Aaron. They made the film more of a dramedy than a romantic comedy. I thought Martina was better at showing the struggle and the pain she faced as she lost her sister and as she became an accidental guardian. Catherine, on the other hand, was beautiful in the film and did a good job becoming a friend to Abigail. As always, Abigail is cute and lovable.

Finally, a little note on the food of the film...they both made me hungry but skip MM and watch NR.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Savage Grace

What a story of some eccentric lives! Savage Grace is based on the book of the same title. The story is of the real lives of Barbara Daly Baekeland, Brooks Baekeland, and Antony Baekeland played by Julianne Moore, Stephen Dillane, and Eddie Redmayne, respectively. Barbara is a controlling, unreasonable, and wild character who drives her husband away and has an incestuous relationship with her son. Brooks is a proud, serious, but a cold husband who doesn't really have a relationship with his son. Antony is an intelligent and well-educated homosexual born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has complex relationships with his parents, loving them at times but also showing disdain and no respect for them on other occasions.

Without giving the ending away, I can say it's quite unexpected (unless you know about their lives already). The ending is not surprising because it does not wow you away, leaving you in shock. But it is a good ending--calm and unusual. I think SG is one of those movies that's good but something is missing. Maybe it's a little too clam for such an unique story and Julianne Moore's character a bit too irrational and unlikable. There are several things I like about the film though: the layout of the story and the design of the film.

The film is divided into chronological five segments each of a different location and a different year. You get to see five different cities from America and Europe including NYC, Paris, London, South of France, and Spain (I think...). Each segment also fast forwards five to ten years so that the first chapter, Antony was just born then Antony goes to middle school and so forth. With this story telling technique, the set designs changes in style as the years go by.
There are also gorgeous estates, beaches, gardens to be seen in the film. As a result, the film is also aesthetically pleasing to see.

One last thing--I love the title of this film: Savage Grace. All the characters have grace in that some are socially apt; some are intelligent; and others are cultured. But some of the actions that they choose to take are cruel and savage.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Eros is a portmanteau film from three international auteurs: Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh, and Michelangelo Antonioni. The term
auteur applies to Wong ever so well. As the title suggests, the film is about love, lust, and whatever that comes in between. Oh, and as a warning to save your time, Wong's short film is the only one of the three worth watching. (I skimmed through the latter two.)

Wong's feature in the film is title The Hand starring Gong Li and Chang Chen. The story is about a young, working class man who has an unrelenting love for an older, sexually-matured social climber/gold digger/prostitute. At times, Chang Chen appears extremely naive knowing that Gong Li will never love Chang Chen back the same way. However, this is what makes the story so beautiful. When Gong Li becomes broke and has no money to pay for her growing tab at the tailor, Gong Li tells Chang Chen to sell some of her cheongsam. Chang Chen takes them but keeps them safely for her eventual return.

In addition to the heartfelt storyline, the cinematography is perfect. Many scenes are dimmed lit with one light source like Caravaggio's paintings. Close up shots show the beautiful laced details of cheongsam. I thought The Hand is darker, not only in the lighting but also in the mood, than most of Wong's films.

About the title--there are many segments within the film that makes its title appropriate. First of all, Chang Chen is a seamster who uses his hands to make clothes. In the beginning of the film, Chang Chen is just a young apprentice at a clothier delivering cheongsam to Gong Li's residence. During this visit, Gong Li erotically feels Chang Chen's crotch--a scene where the element of hand is beautifully featured. The penultimate scene intensely portrays the hand as an emotional, bewitching object.

The City of Lost Children

I can't really remember how I stumbled upon The City of Lost Children. I think it might have been a recommendation on Netflix. It seemed quite scary and old but was rated as a good foreign film which is my most watched genre. Old is something that I usually step away from though, especially black and white films. My viewings of black and white movies are almost always in a classroom environment. But anyways, TCOLC is not a black and white film so I added it only my Netflix queue.

The film's opening prominently features actor Dominique Pinon who is also in Amelie, one of my favorite films. (I say prominently because there are 4 of him.) This opening sets the tone of the movie as something bizarre, adventurous, and, somewhat, fun. Actors of the film are atypical in that they are not attractive or sexy; they are a bit strange looking with unusual behaviors and backgrounds.

I can't really say the story is anything special but the way the story was shot somewhat upped it. I guess it's similar to Pan's Labyrinth in that the style of the film really delivered the story. Depressing, dirty, tinted colors filled the film. The world that the film takes place is something like a dilapidated and crime-ridden carnival town. Orphans steal from adults and give their stolen goods to their caretakers who are also their teachers. Unfortunately, TCOLC didn't do it for me.

One moment in the film that I really enjoyed is the choreographed movements of the caretakers who are semi-siamese twins, attached at the foot. This one scene shows the two making food: one would hold up a cheese grater, the other would grate the cheese; one would hold a cucumber, the other would slice it; one would eat the food, the other would actually taste it. These rapid movements all take place in like two minutes and makes this part fun to watch. My reaction was that it probably took them a long time to practice for this one scene.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Raise the Red Lantern

Gong Li was the reason why I watched
Raise the Red Lantern. She caught my attention in Memoirs of a Geisha so I wanted to watch more of her films. Again, Gong Li powerfully portraits her character in RTRL as Song Lian a young woman who gets married to a wealthy, old man. Song Lian is the fourth mistress or concubine of this wealthy man who the audience never gets familiar with. The director, Zhang Yimou, chose not to shoot close-ups of the husband which I thought was an excellent way to narrate the distance of the marriage and the two characters.

RTRL is filled with drama: hate, deception, backstabbing, jealousy, and more. Throughout the movie, I found myself rooting for Song Lian in her battle against the other mistresses (and servant) who fight for the favoritism of the husband. Zhang Yimou brings the audience behind the doors and walls of a family that is ran by unyielding traditions passed on by the previous generation. At times the traditions and the need to follow the traditions are absurd which makes you realize that the argument and disharmony too are absurd. Why can't everyone just live happily together? Or maybe they bring down the person who is causing all the drama--the husband. At the end, you realize that all this is just a vicious cycle. Zhang Yimou beautifully films this cycle as an exciting and visually luscious game.

As one of the Zhang Yimou's earlier film, I thought RTRL shows the development of his colorful style. As exemplified in Hero, Zhang Yimou uses single colors to tell stories. Each chapter in Hero had a different sweeping color: red, green, blue, and white. So too is used in RTRL. Throughout the film, red is used against a gray, somber backdrop. The red really stood out and makes the film extraordinary memorable.

One other great thing about the film is the acting of Gong Li. By now, I have thought of her as an actress who is verye often typecasted. In Memoirs, Curse of the Golden Flower, and 2046, Gong Li has always played a powerful, independent woman with much power and anger boiling under her. In most of RTRL, Gong Li is the same powerful actress but we do get a glimpse of her weakness at the beginning and the end of the film. I thought this was refreshing to see and it adds much more to Gong Li as an actress.