Lost in Translation (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★
The first time I saw this movie back in 2003, I thought it was mediocre at best because I didn’t see what the hype was all about. I didn’t see what was so profound about it; all I saw were a series of strange scenes about culture clash and two lonely people with a significant age difference meeting and saying goodbye. Watching it for the second time six years later, I found so much more meaning in terms of what Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray were going through. Johansson plays a neglected wife of a photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who realizes that maybe she is falling out of love with her husband. Murray plays an actor who is hired by the Japanese to endorse several products but is conflicted with what he’s doing in a foreign country when he’s having problems at home. What I loved about this movie is its ability to use the characters’ loneliness as a common bond and go from there. Sofia Coppola, the director, was able to tell a somber (but refreshing) story without succumbing to the typicality Hollywood pictures about two people meeting each other in a foreign country. I’ve heard and read that lot of people thought that the two lead characters were involved in a blossoming romantic relationship. I disagree with that point of view because the two leads simply needed each other for some kind of solace. I thought what they had was a special kind of friendship–the kind that might last even after they leave Japan. Even though they were vastly different from one another, there was no language barrier (unlike with the Japanese) and each was actually willing to listen to one another (unlike Ribisi to Johansson and the wife to Murray). I also enjoyed how Coppola made the background conversations louder as the main characters were giving each other looks and smiles. Cinematic techniques like that made me think about the disconnect between ourselves and other people. More than half of the conversations in this picture were heavily one-sided. The characters may be talking to each other but they’re not really engaged or interested in what others have to say. Such scenes were painfully reflected in Johansson and Ribisi’s scenes of generic questions and one-word answers. I thought it was very truthful because sometimes I do feel like that with the people in my life. And like Johansson’s character, I sometimes take it so personally to the point where I start questioning whether I’m mature enough to emotionally handle such things. This is not the kind of movie that is strong when it comes to its plot. My advice is to really take a look at the characters, how their behaviors differ from their words and how lonely they really are underneath the smile and the sarcasm. The film may be a bit hard to swallow at times because one might feel that the pacing might be too slow. However, the melancholy tone was spot-on (with bits of comedy sprinkled here and there) and the characterizations ring true in actuality.
sex, lies, and videotape (1989)
★★★ / ★★★★
I really enjoyed “sex, lies, and videotape,” written and directed by Steven Soderbergh, because it was able to deliver intimacy among characters that are extremely flawed and at times downright unlikable. Andie MacDowell (as the wife who is so uncomfortable about sex, she stops having sex with her husband), Peter Gallagher (as the husband who does not get any sex from his wife so he decides to get it from his wife’s sister), Laura San Giacomo (as the extroverted sister who is driven by jealousy to the point where she will get herself in situations that can potentially hurt her sister), and James Spader (as the husband’s college friend who videotapes women and their sexual secrets) all did an amazing job trying to measure each other up–what they know, what they don’t know and how they can untangle themselves from each other. This is a prime example of achieving a lot without a big budget. Instead of flashy special and visual effects, it focuses on the script and the role of psychology in these characters’ lives. The conversations felt real because what the characters say out loud are sometimes lies and we have to constantly figure out what they really mean by looking at their body languages. This film is not only about human relationships. It’s also about voyeurism, how one’s alienation with oneself can sometimes infect others, and how one can share more information when facing a camera instead of facing another individual. I think that’s very relevant today now that YouTube vlogging is such a phenomena. Some of the most popular YouTube bloggers are very soft-spoken in real life but when they get in front of the camera, it’s like they become a completely different person. This film reflected that and I was very, very impressed. This is the kind of picture that I wouldn’t mind watching multiple times because of the complex dynamics between the characters. It’s just that good and I highly recommend everyone to watch it especially those who are into character studies.
The Firm (1993)
★★★ / ★★★★
Based on a John Grisham novel, “The Firm” is about a Harvard Law School graduate named Mitch McDeere (played by Tom Cruise) who receives an offer from Bendini, Lambert & Locke with an offer that surpasses other firms’ with benefits that no man in his right mind would refuse. McDeere’s wife (Jeanne Tripplehorn), coming from a rich family, tells her husband that it’s too good to be true but McDeere ignores his wife’s concern, only to find out later on that the firm he works for are tied to organized crime like the Mob. I’m at the borderline whether or not to recommend this film because even though it managed to entertain me more than half of the time, I didn’t find any reason for it to be two hours and thirty minutes long. Though its story is shrewd, it’s not efficient in its way of telling the story. It purposely piles a stack of one complex idea after another to the point where I found myself giving up trying to find out how one thing relates to another and just observe how it would all play out. It’s a shame because this movie had powerful performances, not just from Cruise, but also from Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Hal Holbrook and Holly Hunter. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me but I thought there were some unintentionally funny scenes during the last thirty minutes of the picture. Even though what’s being presented on screen is serious, the soundtrack suggests otherwise which was aided by Cruise’ tendency to overact. Maybe Sydney Pollack, the director, wanted to achieve something different but that lack of agreement between images and tone took me out of the experience. I feel like if it had been darker and edgier, I would enjoyed “The Firm” a lot more instead of just giving it a slight recommendation. I was very interested in the story and the way McDeere untangles himself from the trickiest situations but the execution could’ve been stronger.
★★ / ★★★★
I think a lot of critics and audiences alike have been way harsh on this film. I concur that this picture is not easy to swallow and digest since most of the story took place in one area. It definitely got suffocating because the audiences are subjected to see the same place for about an hour and fifteen minutes (the middle portion); the only things that changed are the increasingly disgusting living conditions of the blind and the dynamics among the wards. Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore lead one of the wards, a doctor and a doctor’s wife, one lost his sight and the other one kept her sight (though it must be kept a secret), respectively. It was interesting to watch their relationship change as the film went on because Ruffalo depended on his wife regarding pretty much everything. There was a brilliant scene when Ruffalo talked to Moore about not seeing her the same after she feeds him, bathes him, and cleans him up in ways that a nurse or mother normally does. There was this undeniable tension between them but at the same time they must stay together because everything around them is falling apart. I thought it was interesting how Fernando Meirelles, the director, chose to tell the story. In the first few scenes, we focus on this one man who suddenly goes blind in the middle of traffic (Yusuke Iseya) and slowly transition to other people suddenly going blind to the point where it becomes an epidemic. The epidemic and ravaged city reminded me of “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later,” only instead of zombies roaming the streets, it’s blind individuals. I also liked the slightly hopeful ending because the suffering was not entirely for naught. Still, by the end of the picture, I still wanted to know the source of the epidemic. That lack of explanation somewhat got to me (and I imagine as most people would). I don’t deny the fact that I saw some hints of great filmmaking here such as the stark contrast between certain images in the beginning and the end of the movie. I also liked the “Lord of the Flies” element in the quarantine zone when everyone had to decide who would get how much food, who the leader should be and who would emerge victorious between the wards. I’ve never seen Gael García Bernal so immoral so his character definitely took me by surprise. With a little bit more explanation and less saggy middle portion, this would’ve been a much powerful film. The acting was already really good and there were scenes that really tugged at my heartstrings. See this if you’re curious and hopefully you’ll see what I see in it: potential.
★★★ / ★★★★
“Fire” is the first Indian film that explicity depicted acts of homosexuality (specifically lesbians) on film and that alone deserves recognition. From beginning to end, I was interested in the picture because Shabana Azmi is often torn between what she wants to do for herself and her duties as a wife and a woman. Nandita Das finds out that her husband (Javed Jaffrey) is having an affair and that inner turmoil that she experiences lead to her discovery about what she really wants in life. Azmi and Das’ initial common bond was unhappiness which quickly evolved into something more. Even though this film is stripped down due to its limited budget, the writing is pretty powerful. It manages to use flashbacks, folk stories and comedy in order maintain the film’s focus. Those three elements were used to elucidate the literal and symbolic meanings of fire; why it can be a friend or an enemy, how it can make one feel so alive or exiled. Whenever Azmi and Das interacted, I could feel their passion and yearning to break away from society’s norms but at the same time hold on to what they have. Their affair does not stay hidden for long so they are forced to choose between unhappy familiarity and exciting uncertainty. I was also impressed with this movie because it was honest in its portrayal of homosexuality. Deepa Mehta, the writer and director, was careful about molding the lives of the main characters; she makes her characters rise above being lesbians and actually lead lives that are otherwise normal and traditional. I thought the most powerful scenes were saved in the last twenty minutes. When it was over, I understood what the title really meant. A lot of people might dismiss this film for being too slow or being too depressing or actively defying the traditional Indian culture. I can only agree with the last bit but that’s a good thing because it offers something new. It goes to show that homosexuality exists across cultures and it shouldn’t be taboo.
17 Again (2009)
★★ / ★★★★
Even though I’m no fan of Zac Efron (he hasn’t yet proven to me that he can be a versatile actor), I have to admit that I somewhat enjoyed this movie. Granted, that enjoyment didn’t come from either lead actors, Efron or Matthew Perry; in fact, the supporting actors were the ones that stepped up to the plate and delivered the big laughs. Having been down on his luck, Perry gets a second chance to look like his seventeen-year-old high school self (played by Efron) after talking to a magical janitor/spirit guide. In that younger body, he’s able to find a relationship with his two kids (Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight) and fix his marriage problems with his wife (Leslie Mann). The only person that knows about the whole magical transformation was Perry’s best friend played by the hilarious Thomas Lennon. Lennon stole every scene he was in and I seriously couldn’t stop laughing because of the way he embraced his characters’ nerdy persona. (“Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings,” you name it, the geeky reference is there.) He was matched by Melora Hardin (“The Office”), the high school principal with a little secret that she expertly masks. What dragged this film down was its inability to stay away from syrupy scenes and lines, including the so-called dramatic slow motions during the basketball games. Its message was also very vague. I felt like the message it tried to convey was in order to stop feeling like outcast, one should join the basketball team because that’s where the opportunities are found. That would’ve been easily solved if Trachtenberg and Knight had friends who are astute, well-adjusted, and happy with where they are in life. Instead, the two of them are simply outcasts: Trachtenberg is dependent on her boyfriend (played by the lovely, though not-so-lovely in this film, Hunter Parrish) and Knight as a socially awkward loverboy. What this movie is trying to show is not real life and it’s a shame because I know for a fact that teenagers (especially teenage girls) will be drawn to this. “17 Again” has some funny material but I found it confusing in its core and very unrealistic in its portrayal of high school. Or maybe I just need to see Efron play a character who doesn’t know how to play basketball. Perhaps then the cheesiness will decrease exponentially.