Little Ashes (2008)
★ / ★★★★
“Little Ashes,” written by Philippa Goslett and directed by Paul Morrison, stars Robert Pattinson as Salvador Dalí, a tortured artist who is not afraid to express his political beliefs yet he tries so hard to resist the sexual attraction between him and a poet named Federico García Lorca (Javier Beltrán). From the synopses I read, I got the impression that this film was primarily about Dalí and his work as an artist and the romance was seconday. I was taken aback because it was really more about the romance between a poet and an artist and barely any of Dalí’s work was shown on screen. What’s even stranger is the fact that Beltrán is in front of the camera more than Pattinson. I do have to say, however, was I bought Beltrán’s performance more than Pattinson because the former had strength in his eyes even though he looked sad, confused, shocked or insecure. With the latter, it was the same note despite the emotion and the drastic physical changes. (Still stuck in “Twilight” phase, perhaps?) His look was intense but with such a complicated and volatile character he tried to tackle, he should have delivered more color and vigor. Another problem for me was their lack of chemistry. Maybe it was the writing or direction but I didn’t understand how someone like Lorca could fall for someone like Dalí. Yes, they both had talent but the way they interacted seemed forced and sometimes quite awkward. There were times when I just felt uncomfortable. Story-wise, it took me a while to get into it but I eventually did. However, it wasn’t particularly strong; in fact, it felt quite empty considering the fact that the two lead characters were so rich in personality and the political backdrop was fascinating. Maybe it tried too hard to appeal to younger audiences, especially younger girls, so that’s why it wasn’t deep or insightful enough. I could only withstand so many hidden kisses and flirtations. “Little Ashes” desperately needed a force to push it forward so that the audiences could feel something. Unfortunately, it was lazy and I felt like my two hours was wasted. With a stronger, more focused writing and a more versatile leading actor, maybe this movie would have worked. I say don’t waste your two hours unless you’re a die-hard Robert Pattinson fan.
★ / ★★★★
“Flakes,” directed by Michael Lehmann, looked good from the trailer because it focused on why these group of characters are different (and proud of it). But the actual film was very disappointing because it ultimately succumbed in typicality; it focused on the romantic relationship between the two leads instead of the actual concept: having a food establishment that serves nothing but cereal. The bistro was lead by Aaron Stanford whose goal is to be a musician but doesn’t quite get there because of his own fears of spreading his wings. On the outside, he says that he wants to be something more but on the inside he’s content on where he is. His girlfriend is played by Zooey Deschanel, someone as quirky and different as Stanford, who’s a painter and wants to help her boyfriend out by taking over the cereal restaurant for a couple of days. Another part of the problem was when a competitor opens in front of them that also features cereal. From then on, a rivalry insues between the two restaurants and the couple. This indie comedy would have been so much more interesting if it did not focus on the relationship between the two leads. Seeing them act like children by trying to make each other miserable, claiming that what they do is “just a job and nothing personal” was too immature and insulting. A smart person (and filmmaker) should realize that sometimes job and relationships DO affect each other in more ways than not. The premise (and therefore the execution) would have been that much more interesting if it straddled that line instead of simply taking sides. Also, in my opinion, Christopher Lloyd was wasted here as the original cereal bistro owner. All he did was pretty much look unkept and mumble nothingness. In the end, I couldn’t get over its “Look! I’m being so indie and different!” feel to the point where it felt almost commercial–the antithesis on what it’s trying to be. Not even the always lovable Deschanel could save this train wreck.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★
I knew Woody Allen still has it in him to make a really good film. After the wishy-washy “Scoop” and “Cassandra’s Dream,” a lot of people began to lose hope once again because they wanted a film as great as “Match Point.” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is sexy, character-driven and sublime. The premise is two best friends (Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson) spend a summer in Barcelona and unexpectedly fall for an artistic and charismatic Spaniard (Javier Bardem). At first I thought I could relate more with Hall because she’s sensible and she knows exactly what she wants. But as the film went on, I could identify with Johansson more because she doesn’t limit herself by following society’s labels. She’s very open to things that can enlighten her not just intellectually but spiritually as well. Things get more complicated when the Bardem’s ex-wife, played by the gorgeous Penélope Cruz who deserves an Oscar nomination, returns after trying to kill herself. She provided that extra spice that the film needed in order be more romantic not in a safe way, but in a dangerous and unpredictable manner. I was impressed with this picture because each scene felt so organic. The characters talked and acted like real people, which I think is difficult to accomplish in a story about the complex dynamics between the characters. All of the actors had something to do and impacted each other in both subtle and profound ways. Another factor that I admired about this film is its stark contrast between American and European. The most obvious one includes Hall’s business-minded, unexciting husband (Chris Messina) compared to raw, passionate Bardem. One can also argue that Hall is more American while Johansson is more European. These differences even go as far as which types of clothes the characters wear. As much as I loved this film, I cannot give it a four-star rating because it needed an extra thirty minutes to reach a more insightful conclusion. I don’t mean tying up some loose ends in order for everyone to be happy. In fact, I love that this film was bold enough to leave some unhappy characters. It’s just that, in a Woody Allen film, you expect something more profound, something more complete. It’s not as introspective as “Match Point” but it comes very close.