Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tahar Rahim Sizzles in Jacques Audiard's "Un Prophete"

When small-time thief, 19 year old arab Malik (Tahar Rahim), is thrown into prison for 6 years, he falls under the ministrations of a Corsican gang headed by mafia kingpin Luciani (Niels Arestrup). After succeeding his rite of passage (he baits himself for a sexual favor, then whacks the guy with a blade on his jugular), he officially becomes the Corsicans' "go-fer" as he gradually rises up the ladder of unseemly mafiahood. Inside the cells, he learns how to read and write, and befriends people from warring factions. He needs to cooperate with both in order to survive. He further takes advantage of his situation when he is given 12-hour leaves. But where does this take the corrupted Malik after his 6-year sentence? Will he even live to see the day?

Newcomer Tahar Rahim comes off vulnerable as the humbled youth inside the harsh environment of the French prisons. He reminds me of Jim Caviezel ("The Passion of the Christ"), and then again, he reminds me of an Arabic version of Orlando Bloom! Tell me that is a bad combination. Though the story runs for a lengthy 2 hours and 36 minutes, Malik's journey wasn't seamlessly told - but there was catharsis when he finally makes the finish line. This is an inspiring film everyone should watch - Jacques Audiard's "Un Prophete".

The film got a nomination at the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes and got the Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globe. Tahar Rahim won the French Oscar as Best Actor. The movie went on to win 25 other awards from different award giving bodies.

Malik holds his godson.

Malik is sent to Marseilles, and rides the plane for the first time.

Fresh faced, boyish Tahar Rahim is one of Cannes' 2009's breakout actors. Rahim has since been very busy, appearing in 6 films if different stages of production. He will be seen next in Kevin Macdonald's "The Eagle" with Channing Tatum.

Tahar Rahim during a press conference for "A Prophet". This is also our 4th Jacques Audiard film: "A Self Made Hero" (starring our favorite actor-director Mathieu Kassovitz), "Read My Lips" (with Vincent Cassel), and "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" (with Romain Duris). Boy, Audiard sure knows how to choose his actors!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Photosensitive Extraterrestrial Creatures vs Brain Dead Tenants in Robert David Sanders' "The Blackout"

It's Christmas Eve at the Ravenwood Apartment complex. We are then gradually ushered into the lives of its tenants. A couple and their two children and the drunk brother-in-law; another couple on the verge of a divorce, though it's plain they still have feelings for each other; a nerd who's operating communication gadgets in a basement; a British super; a sexy girl who's up for a possible promotion and her infatuated boyfriend; and a girl who's holding a Christmas Eve party.

All day, the city has been experiencing intermittent tremors and power failures, and government agencies offer no explanation. That night, the residents of Ravenwood are given a glimpse as to why.

I'd have to admit most of what transpired on screen caught my interest. But like most characters in the genre, the whole narrative is full of stupid characters that deserve their comeuppance. Unfortunately, in this film, even the likeable characters end up torn to pieces.

There's not much explanation on the origin of the creatures, which look like human scorpions with a claw-ended tail. Another creature looked like mutated horseshoe crabs. It's not even explained if the creatures were indeed photo-sensitive (photophobic?) or they just attract light, thus shutting down electricity grids, causing city-wide blackouts.

If you're bored, with nothing much in matters of productive activity, director Robert David Sanders' "The Blackout" isn't a bad alternative.

Spoilers here: And they have to kill off Michael Caruso? What a waste of cuteness. ;->

Have a heart. The first casualty is a child.

Marital woes bringing this couple together. But when they were being hounded by the creature, they kept looking at the creature instead of running away. Talk about idiotic characters.

Barbara Streifel Sanders, Ian Malcolm and Anthony Tedesco playing the annoying nerd.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

She Just Doesn't Love You - "Unrequited"

Growing is never an easy thing for anybody. Not when you witnessed your dad commit suicide and your mom has succumbed to the booze. Ben (Michael Welch) is sent away to a group care program where after 6 months, he is able to come back home. Unfortunately for Ben, his mother doesn't seem too interested with his presence anymore. To make matters worse, the girl he was seeing before - the pretty Jessica (Sarah Habel) is now infatuated with a college guy Todd (Justin Baldoni) whose main goal in life is to get inside her pants.

From a rather GP countenance, "Unrequited" gradually turns into PG with the underpinnings of a psychological thriller. Populated by a pretty cast, this otherwise run-of-the-mill story is set afloat by the charming Michael Welch and his co-stars and an idyllic setting somewhere in a serene Oklahoma lakeside county. The movie feels more like a TV movie than a film feature which is really a disappointment from director Jason Epperson.

And, dang! See what overdependence on mobile phones does to a good looking kid. ;->

Michael Welch is Ben. In the "Twilight" saga, he plays popular Mike Newton.

Sarah Habel is Jessica.

Justin Baldoni plays hormone-crazed Todd

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Buffet of Men in "Brief Conversations With Hideous Men"

Watching John Krasinski's "Brief Conversations With Hideous Men" was like sitting through a male segment of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues". As I really wanted an insight on what makes men tick, I sat up and listened carefully.

The movie follows the research of Sara (Julianne Nicholson), graduate student, who after being suddenly dumped by his pianist boyfriend (John Krasinski) decides to undertake a new research topic on the desires and dreams of men! Once she gets the nod from her professor (Timothy Hutton), she begins compiling anecdotes from different guys. This started with a guy who, at the point of orgasm, involuntarily shouts "Victory for the Forces of Democratic Freedom" (or something like that). He denies being political, but his scatological habit has cost him a lot of sexual relationships. Meanwhile, an ardent student Daniel (Dominic Cooper of "Mamma Mia") wants a thorough critique on his paper - which tackles rape and the contradictory outcome of salvation. When Sara balks at the premise, Daniel shouts, "What if I was the one (who was raped)? Would that change your opinion?"

Sara's boyfriend, Ryan, explains why he cheated, and though the explanation doesn't exactly impress me, Krasinski's performance is nothing short of brilliant. I am so used to his comedic side ("The Office") that seeing him on a more serious note is ultimately rewarding.

My favorite bit is the part of the old black guy who explains to Sara why he doesn't wear white. He was told the story of his departed father who, when he was a child, worked as a toilet concierge for the rich. He would stand by the door trying not to be noticed, then bear witness as rich men do their "most elemental" needs. As the story comes to its conclusion, the younger man is shown standing in front of the narrating older guy, doing a duologue together. I loved the theatrical staging. Clocking in at 80 minutes, this unique piece of work is insightful, thought provoking and entertainingly informative. I am sure there is a piece of these men in my father, brother, boyfriend, cousin, and guy friends. Wouldn't you wanna know?

I'd consider this a must-see!

Scatological habit.

Julianne Nicholson and Chris Messina

What didn't you like in my paper, asked Daniel (Dominic Cooper).

Josh Charles does his rehearsed break-up piece to one of the several girls.

Lou Taylor Pucci and Max Minghella

John Krasinski wrote the script and directed the movie which scored a Grand Jury Prize nomination at Sundance.

John Krasinski, at 6'3", is the shortest among his siblings who stand 6'6" and 6'10". It took him 2 years to finish the movie. Though, in his interview, he admits that writing scripts and directing isn't really his thing, he felt he needed to work on this project.

Chris Messina flubs his pick up line when he is drunk.

Christopher Meloni is subject # 3 who takes on the eternally hopeful girl waiting by the airport.


Dominic Cooper smolders as Daniel. He wanted Sara to appreciate his essay which romanticized rape. What if he was the victim? "Mamma Mia"! Looking so handsome here.

Max Minghella is the part-time waiter who philosophizes women with his buddy. I love that accent and deep baritone.

Bobby Cannavale is subject # 40, the amputee who uses his "stump" to lure sympathizing girls in his bedroom.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Don McKay - Lopsided Homecoming

Don McKay (Thomas Haden Church) lives a solitary life in the big city. A janitor at a college, he regularly sends letters to a girl back home – one who never replies. But one day, after 25 years, he gets a letter from her pleading him to come home. He does so, but with much uncertainty and he finds Sonny (Elisabeth Shue) stricken with a terminal illness. She declares her love for him. “Stay with me,” she begs. But something is amiss. Sonny’s caretaker Marie (Melissa Leo) speaks with a delectable sarcasm, and Sonny’s doctor (James Rebhorn) talks to him with contempt! Moreover, Sonny’s photos seem altered. What has he gotten himself into?

A powerful ensemble of Oscar nominees trade thespic punches with lustful brio. Thomas Haden Church gets himself a role that showcases intensity. He however seemed dazed during most of his screen time. We’ve missed Elisabeth Shue, nominated for an Oscar in “Leaving Las Vegas”, on the big screen, and she returns like a schemy Blanche Dubois – exquisitely beautiful after all these years, yet dangerous and unpredictable. Then Melissa Leo, nominated for an Oscar for her spotlight-hugging role in “Frozen River”, is the prissy caregiver who walks around with a dangerous undercurrent. She must have loved her part so much, it showed! But why is she billed “Melissa Chessington Leo”? What gives?

The movie keeps you guessing. It’s a modern-day, lopsided Agatha Christie, infusing suspense with a hint of humor. But then is it a black comedy – or just a suspense thriller? Sometimes you aren’t sure anymore. Director Jake Goldberger isn't too sure either.

"Don McKay" stars 3 Oscar nominees: Thomas Hayden Church, Elisabeth Shue and Melissa Leo.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Director's Spotlight: Werner Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World"

There is no one like Werner Herzog!

The German iconoclast director is invited by a scientific society to visit the Antartica, and instead of going clinical and staid like most documentary films, Herzog infuses his visit with awe and lots of humor!

In the film, he speaks to the folks in the transient community of McMurdo, an "ugly town" he admits, and more importantly, the jump off point to adventures in the South Pole. The population is a mixed bag of adventurers, travelers, who find themselves drawn to the astral summers (from August to January) of Antartica. For 5 months, these people would not experience night time. Among Herzog's subjects are a bus driver, who drives a humongous bus called Ivan the Terra Bus; a cook who serves the place's alternative to "ice cream" called Frosty Boy; scientists, etc.

If a visitor plans to head outdoors, they are required to attend a 2-day survival class. This was when the film takes a comic turn. After teaching the trainees how igloos are built, you would find them reenacting how extreme weather conditions are being dealt with - with buckets up their heads! I was almost down the floor laughing, as a class of adults - yes, with buckets on their heads, simulate a situation of heavy blizzard and losing a team mate!

Another interesting scene was the feeding of weddell seals. When scientists began studying a mother seal's milk, they learned that the white lactating substance is 60% fat with absolutely no lactose in it! What is a milk without lactose? This study was in connection with the seals' dramatic weight loss after nurturing their "pups".

At a diving camp called New Harbor, we are taken into the arctic sea - where alien-looking brittle stars and sea urchins are on view. Scarlet worms live in the anus of these sea urchins. And a special organism called Tree Foramina is being collected. They are a primordial single celled organism that harbors hundreds of pseudopods all over their structure.

Though on paper, these ramblings may seen dour, Herzog's introspective musings shape the whole narrative-free proceedings, and taking us on an adventure way off the beaten track! It is never boring! In fact, Herzog rides on his uncanny talent of making the most mundane interviewees fascinating subjects!

This is a must see!

The town of McMurdo - a regulated community which even has gyms, a yoga class - and even an ATM machine.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Inspiring Emmy Big Winner “Temple Grandin” Should Not Be Missed!

While a doctor is trying to explain the possible cause of autism to a mother, he insists on seeing her husband instead - because it’s a difficult matter to understand. As though women have brains the size of Sarah Geronimo fans. The mother sits up and replies, “My husband is busy, and I graduated from Harvard. Try me!”

In another scene, when a security guard refuses to allow Temple Grandin, played by Claire Danes, entry into a cattle ranch because it has an all-male policy (you’d have thought this was the 1920’s instead of the 70’s), Temple gets into oversized cowboy suit, rolls all over mud, wears a dusty cowboy hat, then drives through the entrance gate like a tired slouched farm hand with hardly a glance.

When Temple, who is autistic – described by this idiot of a doctor as an “infantile schizophrenic” and puts the mother to task for being cold and probably refused to touch her daughter just when the child needed her most – braves the automatic door of a store, a woman jumps in to help her through. She reasons, “I am autistic.” The woman replies with: “Don’t worry, dear. My child is artistic, and he has this thing with automatic doors as well.” I was laughing out loud.

There is much to inspire us in Temple Grandin’s difficult life. She underlines the fact that, indeed, she is “different, not less!” She doesn’t have the charm of the cinematic Forrest Gump but she lives and breathes the same air we breathe. She is real. And just when you thought that autistic persons are condemned to a life inferior and subservient to the whims of “saner” individuals, think again!

Claire Danes plays the amazing story of an autistic girl who designed the cattle system being used by more than half the cattle ranches in America – a system that allows a more “humane” treatment of cows before they are eventually slaughtered off. And though I am a bit prejudiced against the bigoted Ms. Danes – remember her sound bytes against Manila when she filmed “Brokedown Palace” way back? – there is no denying her excellent work here. Julia Ormond ("The English Patient”) plays her long suffering mother, and David Strathairn is her Science teacher, the one who helped her cultivate a scientific reasoning. Danes, Ormond, and Strathairn won an Emmy for their performances in this spectacular roller coaster biography, directed by Mick Jackson. Catherine O’Hara also got a supporting actress nomination in a mini-series or movie. It received a total of 15 nominations and eventually won 7 of them. Bravo, HBO!

When an autistic person is capable of finishing a degree – Master of Science in Cattle Husbandry (not sure if this was the exact title) – it enjoins the formidable power of the human spirit to overcome whatever odds we face.

I do have a question: Where was Temple’s father during all of her struggles – or moments of exuberance? He was never mentioned, but once.

The luminous Julia Ormond

Claire Danes has been having a “dry spell” the past few years appearing in only 1 movie in 2004 (“Stage Beauty”), two films in 2005, NONE in 2006, three in 2007 (“Evening”, “Stardust”, “The Flock”), one in 2008 (“Me and Orson Welles”), NONE in 2009, and eventually mustered one TV movie for 2010 – “Temple Grandin” with nothing else in the horizon from here on. “Temple Grandin” should boost her dwindling career. And hope that she learns from her bigotry somehow – coz this career stagnation is karma working its way on a talented person. But then who cares about being unemployed when your husband is “cutie patootie” (her description) – Hugh Dancy. I absolutely agree. What a lucky biatch! As far as I can remember, Danes is considered "persona non grata" by the city of Manila.

Is “Temple Grandin” melodramatic? Heck no. It’s funny, in some ways "edge-of-your-seat" due to Temple's antics, but it is also solid entertainment that everyone can learn from and thoroughly enjoy as well.

P.S. And I stand corrected, I meant "Juliette Binoche" - not Julia Ormond. Thanks for the correction, redheaded.

David Strathairn

Temple Grandin and Claire Danes