Sunday, June 04, 2006

Love, Isabella, Regrets, Thanks, Bettie and Sweet Cyrus

Falling… Love (directed by Ming-Tai Wang): Rating 6.5/10

Directly imported from Taiwan, this movie is so new that it has only debuted at one International film festival in 2006. The movie’s summary in a nutshell -- Love hurts, Love causes pain, Love demands sacrifice, Love is based on choices, Love requires patience and Love Kills!!! Alan (Cheng-Lung Lan) is heart-broken after he gets dumped; he falls for another woman, but is un-decided about her. So he drifts into another woman’s lap; his drifting causes his girlfriend heart-aches. Another love story is spliced with the movie and is related to Alan’s tale but the link is not revealed until later on but it is not too hard to guess. The truth is that the movie is nothing special. Wai-kar Wong and Hsiao-hsien Hou have explored such themes enough times already. Sure the movie is technically good but currently most Asian movies look like a work of art anyhow. But if the movie’s story is boring, then there is no point in looking at a dressed up sulking heart-ache!

Isabella (directed by Ho-Cheung Pang): Rating 7/10

Winner of Best Music at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, this is another example of a hyped movie with no story. Once again like Falling…in Love this movie looks good visually but there is nothing to be told. A womanizing police-officer Shing meets his match when he encounters a young beautiful Yan (real-life named actress Isabella Leung). After Shing sleeps with her, Yan claims to be his daughter. Shing can’t figure out if she is lying or not? Either way, he develops a special relationship with Yan. The story is set in 1999 before Macau’s official hand-over from Portugal to China and a wafer-thin plot revolves around this political situation. The hand-over plot is a forced inclusion while Shing drifts around the city with Yan. Sure the beautiful locales of Macau enhance the story’s peaceful mood but it makes no difference as the movie moves too slowly while nothing happens. I am tired of film-makers who think showing a man shaving is art. No there is nothing insightful there but nowadays in films it is fashionable once again to show trivial everyday things and pass them off as art!

Everlasting Regret (directed by Stanley Kwan)

‘When your city is no longer your city, history can turn the right man into the wrong choice’. A movie which starts out with a line like that promises to be interesting, right? The ending line is interesting as well (can’t remember that one right now) but I lost interest in everything shown in the middle. Once again, the movie is competent visually and the story is not that bad but I could not care long enough to continue watching.

Thank You for Smoking (directed by Jason Reitman): Rating 7/10

I had such high expectations from this movie, but in the end it failed to maximize its potential. Given Aaron Eckhart’s sly smooth talking manipulative roles in Neil LaBute’s features ( Your Friends & Neighbours , In the Company of Men ), this movie seemed tailor suited for him -- if Eckhart’s character was going to defend the evil companies, then he had to be quick on his feet and ready to chew up anyone who tried to get in his way while making it look all so innocent and harmless. Unfortunately, his edge is toned down in Thank You.. because the story forces his character to show some compassion and act like a responsible father despite working for the ‘bad’ guys. In this day and age enough books, movies and documentaries have been made about the evil corporations and their methods to spin stories for their own good. So if a satire on this topic has to work, then it has to show intelligence and give new insightful material. Maybe I have the wrong impression about this movie. Maybe this film was only meant to be a character study of a particular lobbyist and nothing else. If that was the case, then why go to all the effort to have the story set in big tobacco? (having not read the novel, I can’t accurately comment on the book to film translation). Whatever the motives in making this movie, I didn’t enjoy it as much. All the best scenes were shown repeatedly in the trailers and the movie didn’t really have anything new to say.

The Notorious Bettie Page (directed by Mary Harron): Rating 8/10

I will get the obvious out of the way – Gretchen Mol is indeed radiant and terrific as Bettie Page and Director Mary Harron has done a really good job of showing Bettie’s innocence as she evolved from a poster pin-up to an actor in S&M/porn movies. Sure it is believable that Bettie was that innocent because she lived in a time when playboy had not yet made its mark and kinky magazines were hidden behind the counters. An example of her innocence -- when the photographer asks Bettie to remove her bikini top, she readily agrees saying that she no see the harm in that. Nor does she see anything wrong in being dressed up in leather, given a riding crop and asked to whip another naked woman. She really was treating her career as just that, while having some fun on the side. This was also a time when the media was not saturated with sexual innuendos and buzzing with the sex lives of film-stars. Bettie led a lonely life and reconciled her career with her religion and love of God. We are given snippets of her life, right from childhood through her college years and how she landed up doing what she did and how she got out of it. There are some good performances in this movie with Lili Taylor once again standing out. I thought Taylor was fantastic in Bent Hamer’s Factotum and once again, she delivers her lines with ease.

Home Sweet Home (directed by Pou-Soi Cheang): Rating 6/10

The Ring showed the terror that lies inside apartments – a tv set and a phone can be pretty menacing; Dark Water showed the dangers lurking in the hallways of mid-size apartment complexes; Ju-on focused on the evil inside houses and elevators. So it was about time that a movie went beyond the walls and illuminated the perils that lay inside the elevator shafts and air ducts of high-rise buildings! Unfortunately, Home Sweet Home fails to do that. The good thing is the movie wastes no time in plunging into action. It takes only 8 minutes for the threat to be exposed – an evil woman, who lives in the depths of the building, kidnaps a young couple’s son. She climbs walls in the elevator shafts and crawls inside the air ducts, but she is not an evil demon – she is a mere mortal with a tragic story. She too was once a mother and the film story eventually becomes a tangle between two mothers (the young boy’s mother is played by Shu Qi). The emotionally sad horror movie is dragged out and a fitting ending restores order in the high-rise complex. But for how long?

Being Cyrus (directed by Homi Adajania): Rating a solid 9/10

A big name cast graces Home Adajania’s debut film. Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Boman Irani and Saif Ali Khan put in good performances in this polished dark comedy about the crazy Sethna family. Cyrus (Saif Ali) is a self-proclaimed drifter who wants to recount his story about his encounters with the Sethna family. But from the first shot, we are given a clue that things don’t seem as we are being told. If Cyrus claims to be a drifter, then why is a tiny pile of money sitting next to him? One normally does not associate wads of money with a drifter? From then on, we are lead into the world of the Sethna family who Cyrus befriends and becomes a part of. But what Cyrus tells the audience does not seem to go along with what he does. For example, Cyrus claims to be a fan of pottery and is eager to apprentice under Dinshaw Sethna (Shah). But at no point, does Cyrus show an interest in pottery! Nonetheless, I was willing to go on with his story. Until, a dream sequence really sheds light on exactly what the movie might be about. A harmless incident from his childhood is shown but that really indicated where this movie might be going or what exactly was going on. In the end, this is a well made movie. Sometimes, it feels too right as all the shots have been carefully constructed to flush out a story with all the loose ends tied up. Acting wise, Boman Irani once again proves he is good no matter what role is given. Dimple Kapadia still has her charm and Naseeruddin Shah plays his role delightfully (although at times his English dialogues seem forced). Saif Ali Khan finally gets a role away from all the Dil Chahta Hai cookie cutter roles that he is forced to do in Bollywood; in the past, he has proved that he is capable of playing a shady character but this time around, he is a given a role with a real bite. Overall, this was clearly a refreshing change from the usual nonsense that comes out of Bollywood!

No comments: