★★★ / ★★★★
“Tickets,” directed by Abbas Kiarostami, Ken Loach and Ermanno Olmi, weaved three stories aboard a train heading toward Rome. The first was a pharmacology professor (Carlo Delle Piane) who rushed home because he promised he would be back for his grandson’s birthday. But when he met the PR Lady (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) of the company who helped him obtain a last-minute spot on the train, he couldn’t help but think of her on the way home. The second strand involved a difficult aging Italian woman (Silvana De Santis) and what it seemed like to be her son named Filippo (Filippo Trojano). Trouble began when they knowingly occupied seats which happened to be reserved. The final story involved three young men, supermarket attendants in their hometown, from Scotland (Martin Compston, Gary Maitland, William Ruane) on their way to see an epic football match. When one of them couldn’t find his train ticket, one of them was convinced that a kid, an Albanian refugee, was to blame. I watched “Tickets” in complete fascination because each story had a special story to tell. I loved that the stories weren’t necessarily important in order for us to appreciate them. The film started off with a quiet power propelled by every day happenings. Feelings of loneliness were explored when the professor fantasized about a woman whom he might never see again. We’ve all been in his situation where we stared at our computer screen and struggled to capture the right words to someone who we considered to hold a certain importance: an employer, a friend, a crush. Its tone was different from the other two because, due to the way it was shot at times, the aging man’s reality almost felt like a fantasy. For instance, everyone happened to turn their heads at the same time to look at a certain exciting happening in a corner. Those of us who’ve been on train rides know that there’s all sorts of distraction going on that it’s rare for everyone to focus on only one thing. The dream-like quality, purposely slow-paced, worked because it highlighted the professor’s yearning for romance. The bit involving the Italian woman and her escort held my attention because of the way it unfolded. I had all sorts of wild ideas like Filippo having recently woken up from a coma, an amnesia as a temporary side effect, because it explained why he had so many questions about his own life. His conversations with a childhood friend, whom he initially didn’t recognize, was often interrupted by the Italian lady and her ridiculous demands. I wondered how Filippo could have the patience to withstand her nasty personality. I would have left her on the train, her ticket hidden my pocket. And then there was the three lads forced to weigh the importance between a football match and helping refugees in need. I think it was the strongest of the three. It had a subtle lesson about tolerance and the kindness that three young men exuded was ultimately hopeful. Having been around individuals like them in public transportations, I expected them to be rowdy and nothing more. However, they ended up having a lot of heart as their struggle to do good cut through the fog. I wanted to get to know them more. “Tickets” offered different stories, but the way it was put together highlighted common themes such as what it meant to love, in more ways than one, other people. Sometimes we do need to be reminded that it’s important to care for things outside of ourselves.
★★★ / ★★★★
When the emperor of Rome (Richard Harris) was murderered by his own son Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), Maximus (Russell Crowe), general of the Roman empire, wanted to honor the dying man’s wishes by helping the empire turn into a republic again. This didn’t sit well Commodus because he craved for power and wanted to prove that he would be a great ruler by leading a dictatorship. The first time I saw this film, I wasn’t impressed with it. I thought the story was all over the place, the characters were simplified for the sake of being commercial, and there were a handful of glaring idioms that did not fit for its time (it was set in year 180). While I think that those flaws are still applicable, I found myself liking the movie the second time around for two reasons: this role being one of Crowe’s more moving performances and the intense action sequences. Without a doubt, the picture relied too much on the battles in the colosseum to generate some sort of tension. However, it was effective because we like the characters fighting for their lives such as the friends/fellow slave-turned-gladiators (Djimon Hounsou, Ralf Moeller) who Maximus met along his journey. I caught myself voicing out my thoughts such as “Hurry up and get up!” and “Watch out for that tiger!” No matter how much I tried, there was no way I could have kept quiet because I just had to release some of the stress I felt at the time. I also enjoyed watching Oliver Reed as the man who owned the gladiators; I found his past interesting and I wished the film had explored him more because he could have been a strong foil for Maximus. The scenes they had together were powerful because they respected each other but at the same time they didn’t want too be friendly because, after all, one was “owned” by another. Another relationship worth exploring was between the late emperor and Maximus. They treated each other like father and son but it felt too superficial, too planned. Commodus would walk in on them and feel jealous and unloved. But what else? “Gladiator,” directed by Ridley Scott, was loved by many because everything was grand and it wore its emotions on its sleeve. However, I’m still not convinced that it is Best Picture material because it often chose the obvious over the subtle path too frequently. For a sword-and-sandals epic with a two-and-a-half hour running time, while the action scenes were highly entertaining, there was no excuse for a lack of depth involving most if not all the characters. Therefore, as a revenge picture, it didn’t quite reach its potential.
The Rite (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donoghue), son of a mortician, decided to go to seminary school because his family could not afford a four-year college education. His plan was to send his resignation after four years because he had serious doubts about his faith. When he did, a concerned priest (Toby Jones) sent him to Rome to attend an exorcism class led by Father Xavier (Ciarán Hinds). But this only increased Michael’s doubt as he brought up the questionable methods done by the Catholic church in terms of dealing with people who claimed to have been possessed. Avid in psychology, he claimed that demon possession had classic signs of known psychiatric disorders. Since seeing is supposedly believing, Father Xavier sent Michael to Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a practicing exorcist in Rome. Inspired by a true story and based on a book by Matt Baglio, “The Rite” took a more realistic path in tackling the issue of exorcism, a practice undoubtedly still happening today. It was great to watch because it wasn’t afraid to acknowledge how exorcism was portrayed in movies. As Father Lucas puts it, when it came to exorcism, people tend to expect “spinning heads and pea soup,” referencing William Friedkin’s horror classic “The Exorcist,” but that wasn’t reality. The reality was people would come in for multiple sessions and a priest would try to exorcise the demon by attempting to find its name and getting control of it. A certain level of the unexplained was there, such as the supposed possessed person knowing certain things about another, but an uncanny level of insight could potentially be explained via an observation of behavioral responses and first impressions. I liked its approach and I was fascinated. Even though I don’t necessarily believe in the devil, I wish the film had spent more time in the classroom because it elucidated and dispelled common myths about the practice. But the picture also had elements of the supernatural. As Michael got deeper into his experiences with Father Lucas, he began to experience horrifying possible hallucinations like a demon taking on a form of a mule and hearing his dead father’s voice on the phone. He also had dreams about the time he saw his father cleaning up after his mother’s corpse. Was Michael experiencing symptoms of a mental illness? Or were the hallucinations and nightmares triggered by guilt? Guilt of leaving his father, guilt of using the seminary school, and guilt of continuing to deny that what he had seen could be real. Directed by Mikael Håfström, “The Rite” wasn’t a typical film about exorcisms because it was willing to laugh at itself and its characters. Since it was more grounded in reality, when the supernatural was thrown at us, the scares and creepiness were all the more effective.
When in Rome (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Have you ever seen a movie in which you wanted it to end approximately ten minutes in? Kristen Bell stars as a curator who decided to go to Rome for her sister’s (Alexis Dziena) wedding despite the fact that she was married to her job. In Rome, she met a charming guy (Josh Duhamel) who was also the best man of her brother-in-law. However, the lead character caught him kissing another woman so she decided to go to a fountain to complain about how much she did not believe in love and steal a few coins. The owner of the coins (Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito) became desperately in love with her and followed her when she returned to America. The main problem with the movie was the fact that it just wasn’t funny. I quickly grew tired of it because there were too many clichés, too many slapsticks, and too many illogical reasoning. When the main character found out about the potential solution to all of her problems forty minutes into the picture, she found one excuse after another to not accomplish her goal. I simply did not believe that the decisions she made were true to her character because she started off as someone who accomplished what needed to get done in the most efficient way possible. Even though Bell and Duhamel were nice to look at and they did have some sort of chemistry, I did not really feel any sort of real tension between them and why they should ultimately get together in the end. Chances are, if one has seen the worst romantic comedies out there, one would know where “Where in Rome” was going. It offered no surprises and I got the impression that it didn’t even try to be funny, which was what bothered me most about it. I found myself trying to chuckle at some of the jokes but I couldn’t find myself to do so because the material was just not up to par. There was absolutely no confidence in the material; if it did, it would have tried to do something different with the characters or how the story unfolded. A twist within a twist would have been more than welcome because perhaps it would have been less soporific. Instead, I wished for the movie to shift its focus on Anjelica Houston’s character, the main character’s boss, because she had presence, as intimidating as she was, when she entered a room. Presence was exactly what the film needed and since it did not know what it was supposed to be, the project ended up being a mess.
★★★★ / ★★★★
This is an eye-opening documentary about the United States’ journey to a financial disaster and I believe it should be seen by everyone. Prior to this film, I had no idea that (when this film was made), we were about $8.7 trillion in federal debt (the film also estimated it to increase to $10 trillion by 2009). I also had no idea how to answer some of the basic economic questions that the film asked the audiences (via asking random people in the streets). I mean, I knew that the economy was “bad” because that’s all I hear whenever I turn on the news, but “bad” doesn’t even begin to cover how much trouble we are in. Economics might not be my forte when it comes to academics but I strongly believe that, despite one’s focus of education, it’s everyone’s responsibility to understand how the system works. And this movie convinced me that I need to be more proactive in really ascertaining why taxes are increasing, where the taxpayers’ money are going, excessive proposed programs that might get us into deeper debt and more. The movie, directed by Patrick Creadon, presented the deficits into four parts (budget, savings, leadership, trade), focused on why they are a problem, and towards the end suggested of ways how we could help prevent further increases in our debts. I also enjoyed the fact that this documentary considered what happened in the past (Rome, The Great Depression, World Wars I and II, the Clinton and Bush administrations) and how some of the very same problems are repeating in the present. But that’s not all–most importantly, it considered the future and made educated guesses on how the economy would be like by the time college students such as myself are retired (and who might be the financial world leaders). It’s a scary reality (the current) and even a scarier eventuality; but the point of this movie was not to scare people into inaction. Its sole purpose was to bring people into awareness and educate people like me who are not as in touch with our country’s pecuniary situations. To do that, “I.O.U.S.A.” presented a series of animations, interviews with high-level officials, metaphors, and cold hard facts so that we could digest a plethora of information and eventually form our own opinions in the matter. I only wished the documentary had run longer and given more time to explain why its proposed solutions would work. Other than that, watching this film was a very informative and worthwhile experience.
★★★ / ★★★★
After watching the film, admittedly not knowing much about it prior, I looked it up and was at total awe that Stanley Kubrick, the director, made this film in the 1950’s. I was completely aware that he made beautiful films but I had no idea that he could blow other historical epics out of the water which came before and after “Spartacus.” Kirk Douglas stars as the title character, a half-slave-turned-gladiator after being purchased by the hilarious Peter Ustinov. In the gladiator school, Douglas met Jean Simmons, another slave, and the two fall in love. When Simmons was purchased by a rich Roman senator (Laurence Olivier) after an unexpected visit, the slaves/gladiators broke out of the school and they made it their mission to free every slave in the Roman Empire. Everything about this picture felt big: the romance between Douglas and Simmons, the battle scenes between the slaves and the Roman soldiers, and the political strife between Olivier and Charles Laughton. I also enjoyed the side characters such as the poetic Antoninus (Tony Curtis) and Julius Caesar (John Gavin) who made the story that much more compelling. While each scene was or close to excellent, there were some definite standouts such as the bath scene between Olivier and Curtis (not included in the original release). It was so funny (and revealing) due to the homosexual undertones regarding their conversation about preferring to eat oysters or snails. It was taken out in its original release but I’m glad that added it back in the later editions because it made the characters that much richer. Nevertheless, I felt like there was something missing–a special shine that made most of Kubrick’s films so memorable. Perhaps it’s some of the overly simplistic (sometimes downright pointless) dialogue between characters, especially in the earlier scenes, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Still, this picture is definitely worth watching for the ravishing aesthetics, some strong acting and scope even though the script/story could have been stronger. I couldn’t help but be impressed with the number of people that were hired as extras, especially during the battle sequences, knowing the fact that computers did not much have capability to enhance the movie back then as much as it can nowadays. Ultimately, I say see it because its willingness to take risks is something to be commended.