Broken Embraces (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Los abrazos rotos” or “Broken Embraces,” written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, was about a blind writer named Harry Caine (Lluís Homar) who began to tell a story about a love affair he had in the 1990s with a beautiful actress (Penélope Cruz) to the son (Tamar Novas) of his agent/manager (Blanca Portillo). The affair was riddled with sneaking around, feigning emotions, and spying because the actress had a boyfriend (José Luis Gómez) who eventually became aware of the situation with the help of his gay son (Rubén Ochandiano) who had a penchant for the videocamera. When I dive into an Almodóvar picture, I expect melodrama, complex storytelling, interesting use of camera angles, vibrant colors, and passionate characters. On that level, I strongly believe that the film delivered. However, it didn’t quite exceed my expectations. I think this is the kind of film that requires multiple viewing on my part because there were times in the picture where I found myself confused with what was happening (notably the middle portion). Although it eventually started coming together toward the end because certain characters stopped holding onto their secrets, it didn’t change the fact that I had to take myself out of the experience for several seconds to figure out where everybody else stood. That lack of flow was the main reason why I didn’t quite love “Broken Embraces.” I admired that this film strived not to fit into one genre. Sometimes it was comedic, sometimes gloomy but there were times when it was thrilling; the director’s use of shadows and the way he used the build-up of tension were very noir-like (particularly the stairs scene–a definite stand-out) and almost Hitchcockian. “Broken Embraces” was teeming with ideas. If the director made a film from each genre he tackled, I’d be interested in watching them as well. I was fascinated with how the characters became so engulfed in their passions to the point where they weren’t even aware that they were ultimately hurting themselves. I couldn’t help but get into the lives of the characters because each of them had passion in their eyes and the way they expressed themselves via body movements. Each of them had a purpose and none of them was a simply caricature. I could feel Almodóvar’s passion for filmmaking in every frame. I just wished that he made sure that the audiences could follow his vision without a significant amount of mental acrobatics because there was already a lot going on.
★ / ★★★★
To say that this movie was really bad would be an understatement. I love Ewan McGregor, Hugh Jackman and Michelle Williams because they are very talented actors (and are easy on the eyes) but I don’t know what they were thinking when they decided to star this in trainwreck of a film. This is one of those cases where both the writer and director are to blame, Mark Bomback and Marcel Langenegger, respectively. I felt like the picture tried to have way too many twists. It didn’t work because it failed to get the audiences to care for its leads. The impression I got during the first few minutes of the movie was that McGregor was a creepy little accountant in need of sex, Jackman was one jerk of a lawyer, and Williams was that girl who tried to be all innocent but she really wasn’t. Unlikeable chartacters aside, I also felt like the tone of the story was a little too gloomy and slow for its own good. I’m not talking about as-slow-as-molasses kind of pacing (which, admittedly, I sometimes like); I’m talking about as-static-as-a-rock-stuck-in-ice-in-the-middle-of-winter kind of pacing. I mean, half-way through the picture I realized that the story hasn’t been going anywhere. The characters are simply running around, trying to outsmart each other and the audiences are left in the dust without any kind of solid background regarding the characters’ motivations. That aspect of one-dimensionality is really a problem and a good writer should’ve been able to detect that. Yes, there were also obligatory scenes with slow motion but another thing that bothered me was its use of score. It tried to signal too much what the audiences should be feeling and it got really annoying because I wanted to realize for myself how I’m feeling with what’s going on on screen. “Deception” is weak all across the board and a one-star review (my lowest rating) doesn’t even begin to describe how egregious it is. If you love McGregor, Jackman and/or Williams, do yourself a favor and skip this one. You’ll prevent yourself from wasting an hour and fifty minutes of your life.
Tell No One (2006)
★★★ / ★★★★
I was really impressed with this French thriller because of how well-constructed the story was. In the first scene, the wife (Marie-Josée Croze) of Dr. Alexandre Beck (François Cluzet) was murdered. Eight years later, he received a mysterious e-mail that suggested that she was alive. Questions then start popping up like hives and the film only gets better from there. Did the wife really die? Who was sending those strange e-mails? Who was really behind all the murder and deceit? There was no straight answer up until the very end so the audiences get a chance to play detective and get really involved with the plot. I liked the fact that when answers were being presented, they weren’t just done in a series of brief flashbacks like in mainstream American films. This movie really takes its time to explain what happened, why certain events happened, and how conclusions by different characters may get tangled up. There’s this constant theme of trying to stay one step ahead of another. This happens to the characters (especially Croze’s) and to the audiences (as we try to catch up and reevaluate the “truths” when each twist is revelead). Even though this is, without a doubt, a thriller motion picture, I found it interesting that there’s this gloom that pervaded the film. Moreover, even though the lead characters’ questions–one way or another–gets answered, the ultimatel message is what’s lost is lost; you can never go back to the way things were. The acting must be commended: François Berléand (as the detective), Kristin Scott Thomas (as Dr. Beck’s friend) and Nathalie Baye (as the thick-skinned lawyer). Each of them brought a certain edge and intelligence to their characters and it was fun to see how their dynamics with Croze change as the film progressed. Based on Harlan Coben’s novel, Guillaume Canet directed “Tell No One” with such focus and enthusiasm. That scene involving Croze running away from the police which involved a freeway is still so vivid in my mind. If one is looking for suspense that is astute and memorable (yet strangely touching), this is the one to see.
Hallam Foe (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★
Right from the get-go, the film establishes that the protagonist (Jamie Bell) is a strange but very sad character because he doesn’t know how to cope with his mother’s death. He acts out by spying on people, breaking into people’s homes and going through their things, all the while jotting down what he has seen, felt, and done after such actions. He also happens to believe that his stepmother (Claire Forlani), his father’s former secretary, killed his mother. That first part of the film was compelling because Bell was able to make the audience feel for him even though the things he does are creepy and borderline criminal. I found it difficult to blame the protagonist because not only is he really young and not aware of the consequences of his actions, I could tell that he really did love his mother… or maybe he loved her too much to the point of utter dependence. Taking that important parent figure from his life at such a young age damaged him emotionally and psychologically so I found his flaws to be reasonable if not relatable. The second part of the picture when Bell moved to the city and met a look-alike of his mother (Sophia Myles) was a bit less compelling because there were so many distractions that slowed the plot down (the scenes during his job which was supposed to serve as an escape, his nightly adventures in the streets, et cetera) .The only thing about the second act that I found to work in all levels was his sexual attraction to his look-alike mother (and how he stalked her at first). It says a lot about his desperation and the lack of closure regarding his mother’s death. The last act when Bell returns home was jawdropping and heartbreaking at the same time. By the end of the film, I felt like the main character grew so much despite still being a bit flawed and fragile. The story doesn’t tie everything up regarding the characters’ lives but offers hope that there’s a light at the end of the interminable tunnel of bleakness and confusion. This film provides an interesting character study and I only recommend it to those that are interested in how a character evolves over time.