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20 reviews in total 
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A Secret (2007)
5 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
One of the better French films but lacks emotional impact, 14 June 2009

I was able to see to see this film as part of a recent festival of French films shown at Cannes. It was one of the better French movies that I've seen but somehow it lacks the emotional impact to make it a truly outstanding film.

Un Secret is about Francois, who gradually learns about his family's secret history, dating back to World War II, that continues to haunt his parents and himself even up to the present. The director expresses this idea visually by shooting the present day scenes in black and white and the flashback scenes in color.

The plot of Un Secret is well-laid out and comes together satisfyingly enough. I have to admit that one problem I had with the film was that I had some problems following the complicated family relationships among the characters, but once you get past that, the way the story unfolds is ultimately rewarding.

The problem I had with the film, which may just be my problem, is that the film lacks emotional impact. The film'e emotions are understated and, while this is not necessarily a bad thing, prevents it from becoming truly memorable.

Still, its one of the better recent French films and you should see it if you get the chance.

8 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
A very sad romantic film, 26 June 2008

I was able to see this film twice many years ago at a French Film Festival here in Manila and I feel I have to stand up for this film.

Admittedly the film is ultimately slight, neither very dramatic or romantic. It does not engage its audience in any profound way. Nor does it have any deep insights.

However, my lasting impression of "Mademoiselle" is its sense of overwhelming sadness, a feeling that you are living through something very special, an experience that will soon pass out of your life and that you will never regain. This sense is highlighted by the two scenes that bookend the film, which show Claire (Sandrine Bonnaire) in her car looking at the show poster, and then at the end driving away.

The specific scene from the film that I have never forgotten is a brief one in which Claire and her would-be lover Pierre (Jacques Gamblin) take a ride across the city on a borrowed motorcycle. One reviewer has commented that Sandrine Bonnaire's face reflects happiness very well and this quality is well used in this scene where she communicates her sheer joy at being in love and alive at that particular moment. Many of the specific details of the movie have already faded from my memory but I still remember that scene even after all these years.

In relation to this, I also remember a brief scene near the end when the counter girl calls Claire "mademoiselle" (miss), an indicator of how her one-night romance has brought her joy and, if only fleetingly, restored her youthfulness.

If only for this sense of sadness, Mademoiselle remains one of my fondness movie-going memories and one of my favorite romantic movies. It is a reminder of how transient moments of true magic are in our lives when weighted against the mundane routine of "real life".

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Occasionally funny, but ultimately dull, 25 October 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Dead Man's Hand (Petits Misères) is an odd movie that seems to be a satire of consumerism but ultimately tries to become something deeper, with unsuccessful results.

Jean (Albert Dupontel) is a bailiff who spends his days confiscating goods from the heavily indebted. But what he doesn't know is that his depressed wife Nicole (Marie Trintignant), frustrated over his inability to sire children, is working out her problems through compulsive shopping under the tutelage of Jean's best friend Georges (Serge Larivière). Nicole and Georges also become lovers. Meanwhile, he also has to contend wit too-helpful cop Eddy (Bouli Lanners) who is slowing down the pace of his work.

The most notable element of this film is its surrealistic depiction of consumerism. From a scene in a supermarket, where the shoppers speed across the aisles in fast motion, to a shopping spree at a mall that becomes a dance number, the film adroitly skewers the consumerist mindset.

Unfortunately, the film is not a satire of consumerism. Rather, it's concerned with the domestic problems of Jean and Nicole, and her compulsive shopping is but a symptom of their martial woes. Jean and Nicole are simply not very interesting characters. The acting is just okay, although Trintignant steals what little there is to steal as the depressed Nicole. Even her bangs look like they're sad.

The movie starts to derail when Jean discovers Nicole's unfaithfulness and hatches a plan to resolve both his problems with her and with Eddy, with tragic results. Once the tragedy happens, the movie quickly resolves itself in an unsatisfying fashion. The movie actually tries for black comedy in its third act, but it doesn't work.

There's really not that much to say about this film, which is one of the entries in the Cine Europa 10 European film festival here in Manila. It's kind of obscure, which is not surprising. In fact, its sole claim to fame is the presence of Trintignant, whose career was cut short recently when she was murdered.

Is it worth watching? It's an okay enough time-passer, with a few funny and even inspired comic scenes. But its lack of substance and unsatisfactory resolution may make it seem more like a time-waster.

Kolya (1996)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A film your grandmother would love, 24 October 2007

I'm puzzled why Hollywood never attempted a remake of Kolya. While I was watching it I kept imagining Billy Bob Thornton in the role of Louka, the lead character of the film. In fact, Zdenek Sverák, the actor who plays Louka, actually resembles slightly the Hollywood actor.

All kidding aside, Kolya is actually pleasant viewing, the kind of sentimental middle-of-the-road, life-affirming fare that Hollywood seems to embrace when it comes time to pick out the Best Foreign Language Film nominees (See France's The Choir and Joyeux Noel as examples). This is not to denigrate its modest virtues, but really, this is the kind of film your grandmother would love.

Kolya is about a 55-year old confirmed bachelor who despite his age, can still score hot chicks half his age that look like they came from the pages of Playboy Czech Republic edition (probably not surprising since Sverák also wrote the screenplay of the movie). Denied a place in the national philharmonic orchestra for not being politically correct enough, he makes ends meet with a variety of odd jobs, including playing for cremations and restoring headstones. Still, Louka is heavily in debt, he needs a car and his mother is nagging him for money to repair the family house.

A gravedigger friend of his offers him the chance to make some serious money by entering into an arranged marriage with a Russian woman who wants to stay in Czechoslovakia longer. But the deal goes wrong when the "wife" defects to West Germany, leaving him in charge of little Kolya (played by cute but not too cute Andrei Chalimon), a kid he can't even talk to since he's not conversant in Russian.

One of the most notable things about this film is its subtlety. Unlike a Hollywood movie, it does not rely on too-obvious characterizations to show the transformation in Louka. In fact, Louka does not have that far to go in his character arc from commitment-phobic bachelor to potential family man material; he's not a mean man, he simply does not want the responsibility of taking care of a child, in the same way that he has avoided getting married to avoid commitment.

This subtlety extends to the ending, which follows its premise to its logical end. I won't tell you what happens, but you can probably figure it out. There are no big surprises at the end. But the filmmakers also allow for a happy ending for Louka, in a brief shot that you may miss if you blink.

My irreverence toward Kolya does not mean that I didn't like the film. It's pleasant enough viewing, not great but not bad either. Its probably most notable for the pitfalls it avoids, rather than what it actually achieves. Perhaps it's good that the film was never remade by Hollywood after all.

FC Venus (2005)
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
An Unique Concept but Disappointingly Developed, 24 October 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

FC Venus is a movie with a unique concept that unfortunately never realizes its potential. The movie plays off the gender stereotypes that men are crazy over sports while women are vehemently not in order to generate comedy. FC Venus revolves around a group of "soccer widows" (wives and girlfriends, plus one gay man) who view their partners' passion for football with resignation edged with resentment. In fact, the movie highlights early on how football-crazy the gang of men is when they play a game immediately after one of them gets married.

Things come to a head when the men reveal their plans to go to the World Cup in Berlin during a child's birthday party. The women are all up in arms, and led by Anna (Minna Haapkylä), challenge the men to a soccer game. The women will get the World Cup tickets if they win, and the men will have to give up soccer in any form forever. If the men win, however, the women have to pay for their tickets.

Fortunately for the women, Anna is a skilled player, having been a promising amateur when she was a girl. But she also holds a grudge against the game, blaming it for breaking up her family (her father Lauri (Taneli Mäkelä) left her mother for a coaching job abroad)). But her coaching skills are minimal forcing her to bring in her estranged father to help the team.

What makes this film unique is the concept of using soccer as a metaphorical way to deal with gender conflicts between wives and husbands. But the filmmakers fail to develop this concept to its fullest potential, seemingly being unable to make its mix of sports movie and relationship comedy into a coherent organic whole. A particular disappointment is the climatic game, which should not only have been funny and exciting, but also have resolved the conflicts running through the film. Instead, it ends up being dull and confusing, with the filmmakers being unable to communicate the flow of the game.

Further hampering the film's thematic development is the fact that there is no strong chemistry between Anna and her partner Pete (Petteri Summanen). Their relationship is actually the focus of FC Venus, but it is not very well developed. The audience is really given no reason to care if the two end up together or not (although of course they do). In general, in fact, the men of FC Venus are not very interesting characters.

Still, FC Venus has plenty of minor pleasures. Minna Haapkylä is an engaging actress and the film has several entertaining minor characters, notably Noora Peltokukka's daffy Sari. The movie also provides plenty of character-based comedy as the women gradually evolve from soccer ignoramuses to football fanatics themselves.

Ultimately, the message of FC Venus seems to be that that the relationship between partners or spouses can only be strengthened if the women are more involved with their men's interests. The movie shows at the end that the women have bonded with their men over the love of football, and that is supposed to be the happily ever after of the film.

FC Venus is worth watching, but only if you keep your expectations low and don't mind a weak (but still slightly amusing) ending.

Utopía (2003)
1 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Nice to look at but ultimately disappointing, 23 October 2007

Utopia has an intriguing premise that it unfortunately fails to live up to. The film revolves around Adrián (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a young clairvoyant who is a member of a mysterious group called Utipia. The aims of the group are to protect people who will make the world a better place, from threats on their life foreseen by Adrián. But the young man leaves the group after a failed attempt to stop one of the members from a killing spree, resulting in the death of a police inspector's wife and daughter.

Years later, he is persuaded by his foster father Samuel (Héctor Alterio) to participate in one last mission for the group: save the life of Ángela (Najwa Nimri), who has become embroiled with a cult. But opposing him is Hervé (Tcheky Karyo), the cop who was blinded in the explosion that killed his family. He is hired by Ángela's mother to "deprogram" her daughter.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, the director and the scriptwriters fail to generate much tension. Director Maria Ripoll seems more interested in the relationship between Ángela and Adrián rather than developing the thriller aspects of the movie. As a result there is little sense of urgency to the film, and thus audience interest ebbs.

Further hampering the film is the fact that the characters never really come to life. Nimri, so sexy in El Metodo, seems unable to give any dimension to her underwritten character. Neither does she develop any chemistry with Sbaraglia, which also compromises the love story. The best performance is left to the veteran Karyo, who seems to have the best-written role with the most well defined motivations.

The film also fails to develop its concept. Utopia could have been an examination of the two opposing points of view: predestination vs. free will. But the filmmakers are uninterested. In fact, they ultimately settle on the most pat message possible to end the film, namely that despite clairvoyant visions, the future can still be changed, which honestly is kind of trite. There's also an intriguing scene in which the cultists murder a family in as part of a rite to gain clairvoyance, but the film unfortunately never picks up on this.

Still, the filmmaker does succeed in creating some intriguing visuals to punch up the film. One particular highlight is the last scene of the film, where Adrián, who now fully accepts his gift, is surrounded by his visions. Another is the opening of the film, reminiscent of the film Seven, which intercuts the activities of the serial killer with scenes of Adrián experiencing a nose-bleed as he tries to track down the killer. But these scenes, while visually striking, fail to contribute anything substantial to the film.

Sad to say, the best one can say about Utopia is that it is disappointing and fails to live up to its potential. When this film was screened at Pelikula, the recently concluded Spanish film festival, Maria Ripoll was in attendance, and she admitted in a short forum afterward that she is really more into comedies than thrillers, and that she doesn't even like violence. In this light, perhaps she should stick to comedies like the exemplary Tu Vida en 65.

14 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
A spectacular mess, 23 October 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Take this down.

Edith Piaf (1915-1963), born Edith Giovanna Gassion to a former café singer and a street acrobat. Abandoned by her parents, she lived for a time in a brothel run by her paternal grandmother. From three to seven years old, she allegedly went blind as a result of meningitis, but later recovered her sight after going on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Therese. At 14 she joined her father in street performances, during which she sang in public for the first time.

She later went her own way as a street singer along with her half-sister Simone Berteaut (nicknamed Momone). In 1935 she was discovered by nightclub owner Louis Leplee, who gave her the nickname La Mome Piaf (the little sparrow). Her career was momentarily derailed after Leplee was murdered, allegedly by gangsters she had previous ties with. To save her career, she turned to Raymond Asso, who gave her the stage name Edith Piaf and commissioned Marguerite Monnot to write songs for her. Monnot became a life-long friend and collaborator.

During this period she rose to prominence as one of France's most popular entertainer and toured all over the world. However, she initially met with little success in the US until a glowing review by a prominent New York critic launched her to fame in America. Her greatest performances were at the Paris Olympia concert hall, the most famous venue in Paris.

The great love of her life was the heavyweight world champion Marcel Cerdan, who was a legend in France in his own right. After a car crash in 1951, she became addicted to morphine and alcohol, two addictions she could never shake for the remaining years of her life. She died at 47 of liver cancer. Did you get that? Good, because unless you're from France, you'll need all the above information to make heads or tails of La Môme (aka La Vie en Rose), a movie about the life of Edith Piaf. The film pingpongs in a roughly chronological fashion from her early years to her later years with little narrative logic or thematic sense. One problem I have with the film is that it assumes that you already know all about Piaf's life and are watching the film simply to see recreations of key moments in her life – a sort of greatest hits if you will. Or maybe a Behind the Music special. Watching La Môme, you would never understand what made Edith Piaf a French icon.

Which leads to my major problem with the film: the filmmakers seem determined to present Edith Piaf in the most unflattering light possible. Quite apart from her extraordinary voice, what you would learn about her from La Môme is that she is: an alcoholic and a junkie, a spoiled, arrogant diva, and a home-wrecker. She was also, unfortunately, quite ugly, a fact that Piaf herself readily acknowledges in the film. By the time she was in her forties, the film portrays her as looking easily twenty years older, with a ravaged face and an old woman's stoop. Did the woman have no redeeming qualities whatsoever?

Marion Cotillard really deserves some kind of an award for not downplaying the ugly qualities of this supremely unpleasant figure. Unfortunately, the filmmakers also seem determined to cut anything resembling a performance from this film. Quite apart from the physical impersonation, there is nothing to Cotillard's performance that would tell you anything about Piaf's character.

The best parts of the film are those involving Piaf's early life, which have all the fascination of a Dickens novel. But once Cotillard takes over as the adult Piaf, watch out, the film starts to make little sense. There are even some puzzling artistic choices, such as the decision to play a key concert scene without vocals, backed only by the score. Even worse, the scene is further reduced to a series of quick close-ups of Piaf's lips and hands, inter-cut with shots of the audience reaction.

If you have to watch the film, make sure you read up on Piaf first before you go. Oh, and enjoy the songs, which are mainly actual recordings of Piaf herself. They're really the only reason to watch La Môme.

Springet (2005)
4 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Tries to be life-affirming, but is just confusing, 22 October 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Springet (English title: The Leap) is yet another obscurity from the ongoing Cine Europa 10 European film festival. Its so obscure that I had trouble locating it in IMDb under its English title and had to look it up through its director, Henning Carlsen. Sad to say, the movie is mediocre and not very well done. It begins as one type of film, abruptly changes to something else at its mid-point, and then ends without really resolving anything.

The movie opens with 42-year old Tobias (Mikael Birkjǽr) being told he has pancreatic cancer, is terminal and has only a few months to live. Despite the support of his loving wife Ruth (Susanne Storm), he becomes depressed and begins reflecting on his childhood love Ida (Marina Bouras) and an incident that happened (the "leap" of the title) wherein she encourages him to leap from the balcony of their house with an open umbrella.

The first half of the movie seems to be moving towards being a life affirming drama about facing death, with Tobias being encouraged by Ruth to pursue his ambition of being a professional musician, and the flashbacks to the childhood leap a metaphorical way of telling Tobias that he needs to "take the leap" and pursue his dreams.

But then, without warning, Tobias suddenly announces that he's alright, he's not dying. Even more surprising, the doctor who diagnosed him turns out to be Ida's father, Overlǽgen (Peter Steen) who beat him up when he was 15 after he caught Tobias and the sexually-precocious Ida making out. So it then becomes a mystery: why did Overlǽgen lie to him? And what happened to Ida, who became a professional ballerina, then abruptly ended her career several years past. Is her father indeed keeping her a virtual prisoner in their home? This second half is the less engaging part of the film, as the mystery is not satisfactorily developed and resolved. In fact, because of this abrupt shift in tone, the would-be life-affirming climax loses its impact and the resolution is unsatisfying. Making the end even more confusing is a brief epilogue in which Tobias, in voice-over, says that if given a choice, he would choose eternal death over eternal life.

So is it worth watching? Not really. I don't regret watching it but at the same time, I really can't recommend it to others. The performances are okay, with the actors who play the young Ida and Tobias particular standouts. But the weakness is in the script and direction, which are uninspired and muddled. The filmmakers seem unsure as to what they really want to say. Are they making a statement about living life to the fullest? About the impact of the choices we make in life? Its not really clear.

Still, if you have the time and you can see it for free, as I did, then you might want to try it. After all, you might react in a different, hopefully more positive, way than I did to the movie.

As esi tu (2006)
34 out of 36 people found the following review useful:
The Forest has Eyes, 21 October 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One of the pleasures of the annual Cine Europa European film festival here in Manila is the chance to see obscure curiosities like this film from Lithuania. Part ecological film and part love story (maybe), You am I revolves around a man named Baronas (Andrius Bialobzeskis), who designs and builds a tree house in the forest along ecologically sustainable principles. The house even comes with a small generator operated by running water that generates enough power to provide light at night.

Baronas' quiet life in the woods is interrupted when a group of youths arrive at an isolated cabin to celebrate the birthday of Dominyka (Jurga Jutaite). He crashes the party and strikes up a friendship with the young girl, which ends ambiguously.

My pet title for this movie is The Forest has Eyes because its basic set-up resembles that of a Friday the 13th movie, with nubile young people frolicking in the woods while a stranger watches them from the trees. There's even a hint of Deliverance, with the arrival of two country yokels to do some repair work on the cabin. Of course, the film isn't a horror movie, it's actually an ecological fable about the possibility of man living in harmony with nature (I guess). In fact, one of the other characters actually writes a story about an ecological disaster, a deluge that destroys the earth.

One of the main highlights of the film, not surprisingly, its spectacular nature cinematography. The filmmakers succeed in giving us a palpable sense of the natural world. Baronas' house is also particularly inviting, with its elevated location, plastic sheeting for walls and its single electric light (the only way you can get there is to climb, which is why Baronas constantly has a lineman's harness on his belt)..

You am I takes its title from a line uttered by a forest spirit (I guess) who occasionally appears to Baronas to utter profundities (When Baronas lies in an empty grave, the spirit appears to tell him, "Death is the ultimate cure".) What does it all mean? I'm not entirely sure, but it's watchable enough over its brief length. And if you need some extra incentive to watch this film when you get the chance, there's a hot sex scene early in the film. It's the only one though, as none of the teenagers who come to the cabin take off their clothes, or if they do, the director doesn't let us see anything.

If I sound kind of flip and irreverent about this film, I apologize. Its just that You am I is the kind of film guaranteed to divide audiences between those who like it (like me) even if they can't quite articulate why, and those who think it's a pretentious (and dull) piece of crap. Both reactions are valid, I guess, depending on your frame of mind. But if you can get into it, its worth giving You am I a chance.

32 out of 61 people found the following review useful:
Craptastic, 13 June 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer continues Marvel's losing streak of crappy movies (Daredevil, Electra, Ghost Rider, anyone?). This latest monstrosity seems to indicate that Marvel lucked out in landing Sam Raimi and Bryan Singer to helm their Spider-man and X-Men franchises but otherwise are as clueless as any of the suits in Hollywood as to how to adapt their characters to the big screen.

Mistake one was hiring Tim Story. Although he did succeed in finally bringing the Fantastic Four to the screen after years of false starts, he also interpreted the material as a situation comedy featuring a bickering family who just happen to be superheroes instead of a group of superheroes who eventually become a family.

Thus, he wastes screen time on the endless bickering between Sue Storm and Reed Richards over their umteenth postponed wedding. Sorry, but Jessica Alba and Iowan Gruffyd are not exactly Hepburn and Tracy. He also wastes his special effects budget on a corny sub-plot in which Johnny's encounter with the Surfer results in their switching powers (which of course means that Jessica Alba gets naked but, too bad, this movie is rated PG).

By making time for all this sitcom material, Story shortchanges the main story regarding the Silver Surfer and his mission on Earth. The Surfer just seems to fly around wreaking havoc but basically doing nothing to prepare the way for the coming of Galactus, Then when he's interrogated he reveals that his board is a homing device that will draw Galactus, and he really doesn't need to do anything else. Duh.

The reportedly increased budget (the movie is said to have cost $130 million) doesn't show on the screen. The Thing, in particular, looks awful and unbelievable. He also gets little to do apart from grumble in the background and dab his teary li'l eyes at yet another Sue-Reed wedding attempt. The bulk of the FX budget seems to have gone to realizing the Silver Surfer, which admittedly looks impressive.

The film also wants to harp on a "we are family"-type theme, but then what happens during the big climax? Instead of fighting as a team, Johnny absorbs the powers of the rest of his teammates and fights Dr. Doom alone. Double duh.

Still, Michael Chiklis as The Thing and Chris Evans as the Human Torch do succeed in engendering some good will as they successfully embody their characters. But the film is a failure on virtually every other level, and another black-eye for Marvel.

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