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Favorite films: The Godfather, Seven Samurai, Leon.
Favorite bands: The Frames, Rush, Pearl Jam, The Band, The Rolling Stones, Belle and Sebastian, The Decemberists.
Favorite shows currently airing: Breaking Bad, Suits, Ray Donovan, The Newsroom, Mad Men.
Favorite classic Actors: Marlon BRando, Jimmy Stewart, Rita Hayworth, Gene Tierney.
Favorite directors: Sergio Leone, John Ford, Tom McCarthy, Alexander Payne, Coen Brothers, Clint Eastwood
Favorite word: Tolerance
Least favorite word: No
Favorite movie villain: Anton Chigurh
Hobbies: Cooking Asian food (Indian, Thai, Lebanese, Vietnamese), writing, watching movies, reading, trying new kinds of tea and coffee, playing chess, doing yoga, working out.
Occupation: English Teacher
Wouldn't like to be: a papparazzo
Would like to be: a writer
Favorite writers: Ross Macdonald, PG Wodehouse, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy.
Favorite books: The Lord of the Rings, The Accursed Kings, The Instant Enemy, The Lensmen Chronicles.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Why you are likely to enjoy the Grand Budapest Hotel
Some people seem to wonder why The Grand Budapest Hotel has garnered so much attention, praise and box-office success compared to other, arguably better Wes Anderson films. I, for one, have to say that I found The Royal Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom better, more complex films. But I do understand the appeal and on reviewing this film will try in my very humble opinion, to dispel the mystery.
Having watched 99% of Wes Anderson's filmography I would say this is by far his more accessible movie, both in the story and narration of it. It's a simple, pretty linear story, easy to follow, charming from the beginning. What I found makes this film different and easier on the viewer is that much more streamlined The Royal Tenenbaums had a lot of intersecting stories, as did Moonrise Kingdom and here every characters seems to serve the purpose of telling ONE story: how the aging Mr. Mustapha came to own the Gran Budapest Hotel.
As always in Mr. Anderson's films, the concepts of family, friendship and loyalty are explored with nuance and subtlety as young Mustapha befriends the hotel concierge, Mr. Gustave H (played wonderfully by Ralph Fiennes) in a relationship that will change both of their fates. Young Mustapha, a lobby boy at the hotel, is being tutored by Mr. Gustave, and finds himself in the unique position of having to help his mentor when he's accused of murder. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse situation as Gustave is being chased by the police and assassins while he tries to clear his name. Although it sounds dramatic, the film is mostly a comedy that revolves around the two main characters and how their relationship evolves into a friendship that will last a lifetime as they try to stay alive.
For those familiar with Wes Anderson, you'll find some of his trademarks here: colorful supporting characters who make brief appearances with long-lasting impressions; tremendous attention to the detail of each frame, beautiful symmetry in the shots and a visual style that is all his own. One particular element that enhanced the film this time is that it was filmed in Europe so the shots of pre-war European towns totally add to the general feeling of nostalgia depicted throughout the movie (it's set in the early 1930s).
I read somewhere that this resembles more a European film in that explores a social world that does not and did not exist in the US, and I have to agree. The myriad of British actors present add to that feel: Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson and of course Ralph Fiennes.
I honestly think that being much more accessible to wider audiences than his previous films, friendlier if you will, this is a movie that will appeal not only to Wes Anderson fans. It's just a beautiful cinematic experience, both narratively and visually. It actually reminded me a lot of Ernst Lubitsch's "Ninotchka", in the humor, wit and nostalgia. Add to that the bonus of seeing F. Murray Abraham in a prominent role again and you're set.
The Equalizer (2014)
"You are what you are in this world"
If that line from the movie were true, Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua are the embodiment of it in "The Equalizer".
Those familiar with Antoine Fuqua's filmography know that he likes it gritty, dark and violent, but also that his films are very much character-driven. That's what separates this film from your average action, revenge-type movie.
Denzel Washington is Robert McCall, a man with a mysterious past who strikes an unlikely relationship with a young prostitute (Chloe Grace-Moretz). This relationship and what comes of it will make his past come clashing with his desire to leave it behind.
Washington plays a broken man at odds with his choices, and it's no surprise how well he can play it. After all, he's done it before. But make no mistake, this is not "Man on Fire"...This film is much slower and takes its time exploring both the character and his choices, which as the film progresses seem logical and consistent with what you've seen. It doesn't have Tony Scott's flare and visual tricks, but it's much smoother, less distracting, slicker and atmospheric.
The action scenes are mostly well done, and Marton Czokas plays a worthy adversary to Denzel's McCall. Yes, some of the dialog is a tad cliché and some lines seem out of place, but it won't pull you out of the movie: this is not a movie about great dialog and it certainly won't win an Oscar for best screenplay; its strengths lie in the exploration of the character, his motivations and inner conflicts, as well as in the creation of a great visual atmosphere totally ad-hoc with the story. In the end, that's really what the film is about: a man, his past, which is never entirely revealed but does help to understand him, and how it will affect his future decisions (I did say mostly well done because for most of the film the actions scenes were actually plausible and added realism to the film, whereas the final showdown does go over the top...It's fun, mind you...but highly unrealistic. When you see it you'll know why)
One additional aspect I'd like to highlight is the soundtrack, which contains songs by Eminem and Zach Hensey, among others, and really adds to the general dark atmosphere of the film. Sometimes songs in films are badly chosen and kill the mood...It's the complete opposite here, they enhance it and help heighten emotions.
I'm not a huge fan of Fuqua's previous films, but I did enjoy Training Day, The Replacement Killers and Shooter for what they were. This movie is a step up in pace, story and visuals, while keeping some of his trademarks. If you like dark, well-paced gritty thrillers, or Denzel walking around with a broken gaze and nothing to lose, this film is definitely for you.
A slowly cooked meal well worth the wait
This is an era where everything happens fast and social interactions are insidiously influenced by electronic gadgets and social media; an era in which we've grown accustomed to see films for their sheer entertainment value and instant gratifications...films where characters fall in love over lunch and everything is neatly tied up with a bow at the end of the film. I do like and have liked many of them, but it's exactly the reason why we should take a break to savor the slowly-cooked, highly satisfactory course that is "The Lunchbox".
This is a film where everything happens slowly, coolly and naturally: Sajaan, a sulky, guarded, lonely office worker in Mumbay receives a lunchbox with a homemade meal made by someone's wife (Ila) by mistake, which prompts a genuine and spontaneous exchange between them, which is carried out...by letter.
The exchange leads to both of them opening their hearts to each other, to make confessions and express their dreams. Slowly but surely a relationship of sorts develops as Sajaan's walls begin to crumble and Ila is able to glimpse a way out of an unhappy marriage.
There are poignant moments filled with silence and contemplation, as well as others of subtle humor as we accompany our protagonists in reading each other's letters and finding out more about the other. Additionally, Ila's dialogs with an aunt we never meet, and Sajaan's evolving relationships with a new co-worker further contribute to both the contemplation and the humor.
Like I said, things happen slowly and naturally, but not too slowly so as to say nothing. These people's lives are not rushed and neither is their exchange, but the director does a wonderful job not overdoing it...That's the beauty of this film: the pace is just right...every scene has a reason, every dialog makes sense, nothing is thrown in as a formulaic resource and we are left with an ending that will leave the viewer savoring the film long after the credits roll. I should say that this is not a film to get entertained. It's poignantly funny, but it's mostly a film of contemplation, superbly scripted and acted and that also allows us once again to get a glimpse of a different aspect of Indian culture (and food).
A minimalistic piece of cinematic beauty
"Gravity" is a perfect example of how special effects can be used in an extraordinarily clever fashion to enhance the story instead of trying to tell it.
This very minimalistic movie, with only two characters on screen, is visually stunning. It follows the aftermath of a space shuttle being hit by debris which leaves two astronauts adrift in space with all the odds against them.
Space, with its vastness, unpredictability and empty silence becomes a character all in its own as our protagonists try to survive. That's when the special effects create a fantastic, wondrous world that captures the audience as it lays trap after trap for Ryan and Michael, played wonderfully subdued by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Especially the former, who totally plays against type and succeeds.
You're never at ease, you never what know what's coming, what's true or what's an illusion and I don't think you'll ever feel the same about going into space.
The short running time, the tension build-up, the intensity and the (for me) very satisfying ending make this a movie that you really shouldn't miss; it is a unique and beautiful piece of cinematic art. Movies which generate this kind of hype usually draw a lot of regular movie goers while driving away those with a more sophisticated taste. This time I'm pretty sure neither group will be unhappy.
The Sessions (2012)
Acting and storytelling at their best
The Sessions brings to the screen the last years in the life of Marc O'Brien, a polio patient who decides to lose his virginity at age 38. To do that, he gets the approval from his priest, and hires a sex surrogate who will guide him in the ways of love. So far, a little unusual maybe but nothing that would make you go "why should I watch this?". You should for two reasons: the first one is the acting, starting with the criminally underrated performance of John Hawkes, who gives tremendous emotional depth to his character, a man prostrated for the rest of his life who manages to charm everyone around him, including the audience. Everyone else involved give very low-key, realistic and heartfelt performances: Helen Hunt and William H. Macy especially, but also the rest of the supporting cast. The acting is so good that at one point I forgot I was watching a movie and felt like I was listening to real people going through their experiences.
The second reason is the story itself. I did some research on line about the life of the real Marc O'Brien and the film is pretty accurate and consistent with the facts; Marc's life is nothing short of extraordinary, especially if you consider that the film is based on an article of his that he had to type with a pen in his mouth. The people he met, the relationships he formed and how he formed them, all that is part of a very uplifting story which truly happened and is not adorned to make it more Hollywood-esque.
All of the above elements make for a very satisfying movie-going experience which I can't recommend highly enough. Everyone I know who's seen the movie has shared my feelings and it's exactly what I'm trying to convey to you: go see it and you won't regret it.
Life of Pi (2012)
A truly extraordinary adventure
Amidst movies like The Hobbit, Jack Reacher and Skyfall, all packed with action, fighting, shooting, killing and breaking, comes "Life of Pi", from director Ang Lee, someone who brings a different kind of cinema to audiences.
I should tell you that I'm a fan of Ang Lee's and he's only let me down once (Hulk, anyone?), but I went into this film with an open mind and ready for whatever came my way.
"Life of Pi" follows the life of Pi Patel from his very early childhood to his grown up years as he tells it to a writer interested in his unusual life story. We get a glimpse of Patel's life as a boy in India, his relationship with his parents, brother, God and.....animals. As a teenager and after surviving a shipwreck, Patel will experience loss, faith and the loss of it as well, but he will also develop a bond with a Bengal tiger that will change and shape him forever, and challenge everything he knew about life.
Most of the movie is spent in showing this relationship and its effects in the leading character. Nothing can really prepare you for what's in store for you: I suggest you abandon any preconceptions you might have and simply enjoy the experience because as simple as it sounds, this story is absolutely surprising and there's no way to tell where it will go and how it will end.In fact, the characters in the movie didn't know it either and this helps your own disbelief.
Additionally, the film is a visual feast. Unlike some other visually stunning films, however, the effects here are used to tell a story and to actually enhance it, not to dazzle the audience with outstanding visual effects. As beautiful as it is, the story is the most compelling part and though it might not be 100% original (we've seen movies of human befriending animals before), I guarantee you, as a movie junkie that I am, that you have never seen one like this; I think the fact that the protagonist is Indian and the director Taiwanese helps this film to be culturally and philosophically very different to what we're used to and this factor made the experience all the more rewarding.
As a side note, this movie is ideal for families: the movie theater was full of kids and they all enjoyed it. There are no scary scenes, no brutality, no cursing: just life, with its share of sadness, love and happiness.
I wouldn't go as far as saying this is the best film of the year, but I can say for sure that you will not see another film that even slightly resembles this one in terms of story, visuals and life lessons. Go see it, you won't regret it.
La sagrada familia (2005)
Has its flaws, but an interesting character study
To understand this film, it's also key to grasp the how Chileans are an extremely classist society, with well-defined socio-economic strata. The economic and social elements of each class have been and are clearly distinctive. Anything not within the accepted boundaries of that class is considered "alternative", "offensive", "wrong", etc. For Chilean upper (and generally ultra conservative) class, such issues are homosexuality, drug use, non-traditional career choices and these are the exact themes of "La Sagrada Familia".
The film follows a traditional Chilean couple and their son who decide to spend (as many people in the country do) their Easter weekend at their beach house, where they will finally meet their son's girlfriend: an oversexual drama student who does drugs galore, is anti-Catholic and who will wreak all kinds of havoc with those who meet her. The weekend will also be an opportunity for the son to create new and stronger bonds; especially touching is the relationship with his sweet, non-speaking neighbor, who secretly loves him.
Although the issues might have been dealt with many times before in film, it is because they are so unspoken of and repressed in Chile and because of the actors' ability to portray that internal turmoil with such brilliance that the film shines. Each conversation, each revelation, each glance, feels raw and genuine; in fact, when the film abandons this and becomes overphilosophical in its approach is when it fails and drags. Fortuntately, those moments are few and far between and the end result is a satisfying one. The final act is refreshing and honest, and absolutely consistent with the the characters and the story. I totally recommend it.
Excellent film. You won't be disappointed.
First, let me start by saying that some knowledge of the events depicted in this film would come useful. I'm Chilean and lived in the country at the time so I knew what to expect, but foreigners and especially younger audiences might not. Back in 1989, there was a referendum to decide if Augusto Pinochet, Chile's dictator for the past 15 years, would stay on for another 8 or democratic elections would be held instead. The choices were "YES" for 8 more years of military dictatorship and "NO" for democratic elections to be held at the end of 1989. This film is a depiction of the political, social and creative aspects that shaped the ad campaign created by those who supported the option "NO" (hence the title of the film) the problems they faced in creating it and the memorable result achieved.
Of course, there were several other aspects that sealed Pinochet's fate as President besides a creative ad campaign, but this movie is a worthy effort to show how a country really came together and changed its destiny focusing on joy and creativity and trying to leave behind fear and anger. It's filmed video-style which really gives it an 80s look and feel; there are several real-life images and video clips which are a nice treat, because they show what the charged social atmosphere was really like back in those months. You don't need to be a Chilean to like this movie; the script and acting are top-notch and it's not a propagandistic film at all. I actually thought it was pretty objective considering this is really a polarizing subject matter in my country; the audience laughed several times and seemed to truly enjoy it. For film lovers in general, it's an intelligent piece of cinema; for History buffs an objective perspective on how things went down. For everybody else, a fun film to watch regardless. I recommend it hands down.
This beautiful and melancholic film was a wonderful movie-going experience and I can't recommend it highly enough.
It deals with various things such as love, death, fear and, ultimately, new beginnings: for the father, a closeted gay coming out at age 75; for his boyfriend, several years his junior; for the son, dealing with death, confusion and a new relationship, and for everyone else involved, all of whom will have to get through the grief and the losses and find the inner strength to start anew. The question is: Will they?
Although melancholic in its mood, the film is filled with bittersweet humor, underlying optimism and the hope for something better. It is, however, not for everyone. Some will find it boring, some will find it slow. But that's just because the filmmaker takes his time to draw us in and experience what the characters are going through. Life doesn't happen in a flash it happens slowly, moment by moment, as does the film.
The acting is superb, very understated: smiles, looks and gestures say many times more than the dialogue itself, which is very minimalistic at best.
You can read about the plot and the story everywhere online; I wanted to write more about what you're likely to experience if you see it. Don't watch it if you're feeling sad or depressed or if you're not really into slow-building movies. Though it's been labeled a comedy-drama, there are not laugh-out-loud moments here and the comedic elements are mostly present in the form of irony. This is not a joyful film. It's a very introspective and contemplative character study, ultimately optimistic in its outlook, very enjoyable if you are in the right state of mind and worth watching if only for seeing Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor (and the Jack Russell dog, "Arthur") give the performances of a lifetime.
The Ides of March (2011)
Worth it, but funny aftertaste....
It's difficult to write a review about this film. It's so full of contradictions (artistic and otherwise) that it leaves you with a funny aftertaste. The film is about an idealistic young man working as a consultant for a campaigning politician and the conflicts and dichotomies he has to face if he wants to remain whole and with his integrity unbroken. Purely from the filmmaking standpoint, the movie will remind you of political thrillers of the 70s made by Alan J. Pakula or Sydney Pollack. It's beautifully shot, has a great script, a very ad-hoc music score, great performances by everyone involved. The way the story and main character evolved, however, lacked coherence and at one point I was under the impression I was watching a fragment of a different movie. Somehow it went from A to D, skipping B and C altogether. That alone changed my viewing experience from fully satisfying to one that, as I said at the beginning, left a funny aftertaste. The movie is more of a character study than a political thriller per se; as the former, it works mainly because of the performances by actors who are able to convey the inner conflicts they face. As the latter, don't expect to be taken aback with unpredictable twists or edge-of-your-seat suspense, because you won't find those here. I give it a 7/10.