Friday, December 28, 2007

ATONEMENT (Joe Wright, 2007)

Undeniably, Atonement is an excellent example of mature, intelligent filmmaking at its finest. Coupled with the fantastic and unique musical score(the sound of a typewriter as an 'instrument'), it's a transfixing combination of images and music. Keira Knightley further proves that she's one of the finest young actress working today, exhibiting a kind of elegance in speech and demeanor that is sorely lacking in other Hollywood actresses, particularly Americans. But it is James McAvoy that ultimately shines. It's funny how great actors & actresses now are found outside of America.

Another noteworthy scene is the 'tracking shot' at the beach. It's proof enough of the technical excellence of the film, and reason enough for Joe Wright to be nominated for Best Director.

However, the end result did not measure up to the technical bravura. And that is disappointing. I've never read the book it was based on(I rarely read any novels anyways), so maybe i have little right to judge the material. But a book is a book, a film is a film. I'll judge this for what it is, or how it is. The early 70% of the film is gold. It's entirely engrossing and emotionally wrenching. But sadly, it falls apart by the last act. I felt that the resolution was far less than satisfying, and missed the mark of the 'heartbreaking finale' it was probably going for. And yes, I do get the messages of 'the power of lies', 'the power of writing' and 'how do one atone for sins of the past'. But the resolution did not complement the events leading up to it. Simply put, it's just that I felt cheated by the end of it. It has left me wondering of the relevancy of an earlier scene, and I felt less than impressed by the manipulative method of that act.

///Possibility of minor spoilers!////

Maybe by looking at it another way, it would make a little more sense. But it's kind of far-fetched and it would seem ambitious to a fault. This paragraph may look a bit 'messy'(I'm no writer anyway), but here goes. The finale is just like what Briony did to Robbie and Cecilia. A lie. A betrayal. Both another form of betrayal by Briony to them, and a betrayal to the viewer. It basically jumps out and drags us into the same predicament as the characters. Whether we, could handle that 'lie'. Further stresses the themes I mentioned above, particularly on 'the power of writing'. The film itself 'is' Briony: manipulative. In retrospect, it questions our early 'expectations' of the fate of the characters. We are very much like Briony, we really hoped that both of them could be together by the end;a happy ending. But if it was not meant to be, would a lie suffice? Would a lie be better, just so that it would be of comfort, like the dying soldier in the ward. Ultimately the film juggles imagination and reality in itself, and in our minds.

Atonement works best as a romance film. Keira Knightley's and James McAvoy's performances provide a believable love story. The cinematography, the setting, art direction, the music, and directing are all top-notch. It would be amongst the truly great films of this year, if one could only overlook the 'trippy' finale. To me however, that is one sin the film could not atone for.


Monday, December 24, 2007

I AM LEGEND (Francis Lawrence, 2007)

The movie that further cements Will Smith's status as the 'biggest box-office draw of this decade'. Credit is where credit is due, he *earns* that title in I Am Legend. Will Smith basically carried this movie, a pretty tough feat considering it's a one man show where he's in it 99% of the time. Like Tom Hanks was in Cast Away. Therefore, the success of the film rests solely on Will Smith's shoulder, whether or not he could pull off a one heck of a performance. And he did. Actually, he did more than was warranted or expected in an action blockbuster movie. He treats the premise and source material seriously, thus making his character believable along with the world around him.

As for the movie itself, that's another story. I'm pretty divided with it. On one hand the movie is very good when it indulges on Robert Neville's character; his psyche, how he survive and how he cope on being the 'last man' on Earth(as implied). Add it with Will Smith's intense acting that I would claim even Oscar-worthy, we have ourselves a well-qualified character study film. But when the sun goes down for the action to take center stage, and the 'creatures' come out, it's kinda terrible. Particularly the CGI of the creatures that is downright ugly and laughably cartoonish. It's as bad as the CGI in The Mummy Returns(remember The Scorpion King AS The Rock?). And there's also the typical "creature-feature" frights and jolts that belong in a B-movie. Thankfully the director Francis Lawrence restrains a bit on the action part, and shifts the focus more on the main character so that the 'plastic creatures' wouldn't take up too much screen time.

All in all I liked the movie to a certain extent. It's nothing spectacular, but still engrossing enough. I'll still be in line for Smith's next blockbuster flick.


Sunday, December 9, 2007

10 Tahun Sebelum Merdeka


Macam filem ni juga, aku tak mau bagitau kau apa yang kau patut fikir.

Tonton, dan fikir sendiri.

Bagi aku, ini antara filem tempatan terpenting dekad ini.

'Once', once more.

ONCE (John Carney, 2007)

Pardon the cliche headline.

Once definitely did not live up to its title. Because i ended up watching it over and over again, every day since i first saw it. For such a 'small' movie, i never expected it to be so addictive.

I have or apparently, had, little interest towards 'musical' films in general. I never saw Singin' In The Rain(sue me), and I did not like Dreamgirls. I guess the idea of people suddenly burst out into a dance number in the middle of the road doesn't appeal to me that much. But Once is something else altogether. It's a landmark for the 'modern' musical films. Gone are the razzle-dazzle of traditional Hollywood musicals, elaborate choreographies and stagey set pieces. What we have here is more similar to a genuine, realistic 'indie' film;only it's driven by music to move the story.

There's no need for dialogues, for expositions, in order to understand the characters. The songs already gave a glimpse into their souls, into their hidden emotions. And the songs are indeed terrific. The leads are instantly lovable that I did not notice that the film never revealed their names, referring to them at the end credits only as 'Guy' (Glen Hansard) and 'Girl' (Marketa Irglova). And like Before Sunrise/Sunset, it's the chemistry of the leads that makes the film all the more compelling. Seeing that both of them are actually members of the band The Frames, so technically they're 'non-actors', but they can definitely act (better even than our own local "actors"). Maybe it's because of that fact that they're easy to root for. That they're not "stars", they’re just your average people, presenting their passion in music. Glen Hansard sings in the lead, with a the kind of voice that convey a flawed and broken character, and Marketa Irglova sings backup like a guardian angel. Watching over him.

I feel that there is no other film this year that is as heartfelt, and honest as Once. It's amazing how such a simple and sweet film like it could, in essence, lend so much depth about love and relationships. How two person can find harmony, and inspiration, with music. It's like the film transcends itself from its original ambition, from just a musical film, into a greater level. Into a work of art. I have run out of adjectives to express how much I love this gem of a movie. It's the best musical film I've seen, and one of the best romance film ever. I particularly loved the ending, which is pitch-perfect and defies Hollywood conventions. In truth, I think it's impossible for anyone not to like it, except the stone-hearted.


Here's a bit of a 'preview'. The song's entitled 'Falling Slowly'.