Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hitting the right key to survive ~ Grand Piano Film Review

by: Uel Ceballos
The Grand Piano with its empowering title, main cast and music involving plot, brings out the great level of expectation from its audience. This 2013 Spanish thriller film has captured my attention for two reasons. First, is because of Elijah Wood whom I last saw in Eternal Sunshine in the Spotless Mind. The last movie I remember where he was the main cast was LOTR and I really miss seeing him again in the centre of scenarios (haven’t checked yet his other film that followed after LOTR which mostly were in thriller genres). Second, is because the film speaks about music, particularly piano music and I’m looking forward to great exhibition of music craft here like what I witnessed from Hilary and Jackie and La Vie En Rose.

The film had established a good start, with the mystery gradually foreshadowing along. Characters are building up eventually along the film, with the significant details carefully left out to spice the twist on the latter part. As a coming back concert pianist who has been on the hiatus of his career for five years, Tom Selznick played by Elijah Wood represents a man who is still haunted by his tormenting past. Again, Elijah Wood’s wide eloquent eyes served him to his advantage of better portraying the required role, and this time as woeful musician Tom Selznick, who keeps denying about being haunted, but in fact sweating extremely through his tux even before he gets on the stage to hit a key. The reason
 for that emotionally-suffering behaviour exhibited by Tom is brought out in the limelight, one piece at a time through the character of Clem played by John Cussack.

The use of powerful music to backdrop a sophisticated thriller is close to a perfect suspense film execution. As Tom goes to the piano and gets ready his music sheet, there amidst the black and white notes handwritten the phrase, “play one wrong note and you die”. From there the spine tingling adventure begins as Tom performs his piece, quiet confused of what’s going on and why somebody is suddenly posing a threat against him and his wife.

Elijah Wood is undeniably a good actor, doing Tom Selznick role as if he was really born for it. He had done well to appear like he could really play the piano professionally. One of the hardest challenges for an actor is to do the role of a virtuoso and act exactly like one, the hardest pressure is laid in imitating that person as he delivers his trade, especially when that trade falls under the category of arts and performing. But Elijah had excelled himself here as the once celebrated musician who is now doing a concert comeback with the ghost of the past still clinging on his back.

However, it’s rare for a film to go without a single flaw (that’s quite normal), and this film got some palpable failings with regard to its story line which I believe is all films’ valuable backbone. Tom’s part is clear and well established, while Clem’s was not. The intention for threatening Tom Selznick’s life is vaguely established, and though John Cusack’s performance is sure-fire effective (with 90% of his character’s part on the film is presented only by his voice over), his character was weakly developed. That though Clem’s has mentioned something about his personal attachment/relations to the music, particularly to the unplayable “La Cinquette” piece which he forced Tom to play, in the end Clem appeared nothing but a psychopath music lover who trespassed a concert and mentally torture the concert artist before he finally decide to shoot him. The acts of Clem in threatening Tom while the latter is performing onstage could be more intriguing and effective if the motivation behind that is made clear and well developed. Nonetheless, the film was strangely appealing, with the grandeur music embedding the thrilling scenarios of Tom playing (instead of running) for his life. So there, for this classy kind of thriller let’s cheer on it with 7 Espresso Shots!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

...and I love HER... (Film Review)

by Love Esios

Ever imagined how the future might look like with all the technological advances designed to make our lives convenient? Everything is easily accessible, everything is functional not with a snap of your fingers, but with the sound of your voice. No need to write emails, no need to see the news, and perhaps in most instances, no need to go out and feel the weather outside. You just speak most of the time to a piece of metal but there is no real interpersonal communication because you constantly interact night and day with...say... an operating system. Uh-huh. You read that right. A relationship with an OS. Okay, let me make that clear, a romantic relationship with an OS. Insane? Well, that's what I thought while watching this film by Spike Jonze who, by the way, bagged the Oscar's Best Original Screenplay earlier this year for this film.

One thing I like about this movie is that it explores the social problems being encountered by the people in the age of modernization and technological breakthroughs while perhaps losing in touch with reality and human interaction. In the movie, we saw how a heartbroken guy basically turned to technology in the hope to save himself from his distress, which I think most of us (if not all) often do when we are down or depressed. We take all our frustrations to social media with the use of... yes... the internet! There is even a moment in the film when he excused himself from his friends just to spend time talking to his OS. Strange but with the rate things are going in the present, the scenario presented in the film might actually take place in the future!

To give you a quick overview of the film, the story revolves around the life of Theodore Twombly, a guy who works as a professional writer of letters for people who can't seem to write heartfelt letters themselves. It would be eventually shown that he's very lonely and is also dealing with a falling apart with her wife which leads to divorce. Eventually, he would discover and purchase a highly-intelligent operating system that can practically provide him with ALL of his needs.

I like how Spike Jonze gave life to his (human) characters. How they deal with the same emotional turmoil every day and how, in many ways, they turn to technology for comfort. The concept of the story is not actually new to most of us, but the way it was written and acted out in the film left me feeling amused, stricken, odd, confused and hanging all at the same time. I also like how the setting came to play in the movie. Unlike other tech/romance-based movies, the setting was not very futuristic for me but I somehow enjoy looking at the pinkish color schemes surrounded by a bland society of people who enjoy using their gadgets 24/7 than actually interacting with each other.
Theodore and Amy

I want to commend Joaquin Phoenix for masterfully portraying a grief-stricken Theodore Twombly. Amy Adams, who portrayed the character Amy (yes, the same name), also gave a strong supporting role. I actually like the fact that she didn't appear pretty and fabulous in this film (which is going to be irrelevant if so, I know). And how can I forget the voice behind the strong-willed and intelligent OS that named itself Samantha...the excellent participation of Scarlett Johansson in the film. Her voice was full of sincerity, intelligence, humor and hope that probably if the said OS actually exists, it would definitely be sold out in just a few hours. To be honest, I almost thought and actually hope that in the end, the voice would come alive and just like how fairy tales end, they would live happily ever after. But then again, happy ever after don't actually exist, do they?

I would've given it a perfect espresso shot rating if not for the vague ending of the story. But I won't discount the fact that this movie is worthy of it's nomination and recognition in the recently-concluded Oscars. 

So, an 8/10 espresso shot will do for this movie. Enjoy! ;)

Note: All photos grabbed from Google Images. All credits to the owners of the photos.