Monday, December 31, 2012

Film Review: Flight

Flight (Robert Zemeckis, 2012)

Denzel Washington is a seasoned pilot. He is alcoholic. In his latest flight that has gone awry, he miraculously crash lands the plane in an unconventional way, saving 96 of the 102 people on board including himself. He's hailed as a hero, but investigation still needs to be done. There are more questions than then there are answers as to what really happened during the incident. This is what the film is all about.

The two best things about the film are the execution of the incident and Denzel Washington's sustained acting.  There's nothing much noteworthy about the story after the crash landing, having it reduced to a mystery, just like any other film. I don't mean it's bad. Actually, I like the film as a whole.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Film Review: The Iron Lady and Magic Mike

The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011)

That it's only now that I finish watching The Iron Lady means one thing: the movie does not sustain my interest to finish seeing it despite Meryl Streep's wonderful performance as Margaret Thatcher. I agree that Meryl Streep got the Best Actress plum at the Academy Awards last year but the film is actually overshadowed by Meryl Streep. That's all I can say about it. Oh, by the way - wonderful makeup!

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)

Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh gives depth to an otherwise overused and shallow plot involving male strippers in a movie. It's fun to watch and you'll care about the characters. Matthew McConaughey did a praise-worthy acting as an ageing male stripper who runs the strip club.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Film Review: X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011)

I like all X-Men films. This film (X-Men: First Class) is a welcome addition. In fact, it is an excellent prequel to what have been filmed and shown, so far. 

The film shows the important roles of some of the early x-men in the Cold War between Russia and US during the '50s.  In the process, alliances among these x-men form; some choose to be heroes, some villains. 

James McAvoy is passable as young Professor X. Michael Fassbender is excellent as Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence is here as Mystique.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Film Review: Rio

Rio (Carlos Saldanha, 2011)

Rio is an animated film from the makers of the Ice Age films. There aren't any breakthroughs in technical aspects and storytelling in this film but, just the like any other animated films I saw, this film is a joy to watch. The images are easy to the eye and the playfulness of the characters are contagious. 

This is the plot. Linda believes that her pet bird Blu, a blue macaw that never learned how to fly, is the last of its kind. Having learned that there's another macaw of her pet's kind (called Jewel) in Rio De Janeiro, she travels from Minnesota to Rio De Janeira, with her blue macaw in tow. But, in Rio, Blu and Jewel get kidnapped by bird smugglers. The rest of the movie is about the rescue of the Blu and Jewel.

Angry Birds Rio!!!

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Film Review: Public Enemies

Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009)

The film follows Melvin Purvis' pursuit of notorious criminals (John Dillinger, Homer Van Meter, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd) during the Great Depression in America. The good thing about the movie is that it doesn't glorify crime and the criminals committing it. It's told as, I suppose, how it happened during those times, using the language of cinema. I like the photography for it captured the right moods. Art direction is superb, and the cast delivered believable performances (special mention to Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale asPurvis).

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Film Review: Elite Squad

Elite Squad a.k.a. Tropa de Elite (Jose Padilha, 2007)
In Portuguese, with English subtitles
Winner, Golden Bear, Berlin Film Festival 2008

Why does this remind me of City of God? Maybe because the two films share the same writer and both deal  (partly) with drug trafficking in the notorious favelas of Rio De Janeiro. And both are excellent films. Elite Squad, however, tells the story of drug trafficking and corruption in the police force on the point of view of some members of the so-called Elite Squad (State Police Special Operations Battalion). At the same time, the film also presents the struggles of the outgoing captain of the Elite Squad as he looks very carefully for his replacement and, at the same time, dealing with the problems in the favelas.

This film is brilliant in all aspects.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: Post Mortem and Tony Manero

I got the interest to see these films because of the inclusion of the Chilean film called No in this year's short list of 9 films from which the 5 nominees for Best Foreign Language Film will be picked. Pablo Larrain directed No; he also directed Post Mortem (2010) and Tony Manero (2008). Tony Manero made a lot of buzz in 2008.

Post Mortem (Pablo Larrain, 2010)
In Spanish, with English subtitles

Pallid-looking (or corpse-like) Mario, the lead character in this film, works in a morgue; he transcribes the coroner's report. Atrocities are at every corner but he seems not to care. In fact, most of the people shown as characters in this film are indifferent of what's happening. They all seem to be sleepwalking. The film looks like a reconstruction of somebody else's nightmare. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Tony Manero (Pable Larrain, 2008)
In Spanish, with English subtitles

Raul Paredes, the lead character in this film, who calls himself Tony Manero, is a pervert who is morbidly obsessed with John Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever. Actually, he qualifies as a serial killer, and whatever it is that drives him to kill is not quite clear. Maybe, he's just a pure sociopath. It is through his eyes that the atrocities and other horrors of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile are exposed in the film. Like Post Mortem, this film has disturbing images.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012)

Was there really a need to do another interpretation of the story of The Amazing Spider-Man? I didn't read the comics, so I can't tell which film adaptation was more loyal to the graphic novel. This latest version of The Amazing Spider-Man has a new actor, Andrew Garfield. I saw the adaptations with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I can't complain about Andrew Garfield being Peter Parker/Spider-Man because when I saw this film, it's Peter Parker that I saw on screen, not Andrew Garfield. That means a lot. This latest adaptation focused on Peter Parker's finding a clue to help him understand the death/disappearance of his parents. In the process he got bitten. And what happened next everyone knows. Fans of Spider-Man may not have liked this film much but I like it that the film is more about Peter Parker than Spider-Man.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Film Review: Shake, Rattle & Roll 14 etc.

In this month (December 2012) I saw four local films. I already wrote about Himala, which I saw during the the first week. It was also during the same week that I saw a Claudine Barretto/Rico Yan starrer called Got 2 Believe on cable TV. Then came Christmas break: I saw Shake, Rattle & Roll 14 (The Invasion), an entry to this year's MMFF, in a commercial theater, and a Reyna Films classic called Kung Mawawala Ka Pa, starring Christopher De Leon and Dawn Zulueta.

Shake, Rattle & Roll 14 (The Invasion) (Chito Rono, 2012)
For the first time in so many years, all Shake, Rattle & Roll episodes make sense. The episodes in the past SRR's were either cheap entertainment or simply dumb, trying very hard, with ridiculous results, to scare. Of course, there were (very) few exceptions, like the Punerarya episode two years ago. This year, all three episodes were directed by Chito Rono, a master in the genre. And he delivered. The scripts, I suppose, were good, in the first place. Good scripts make good films. Ricky Lee wrote the Pamana episode, Rody Vera the Lost Command episode, and Roy Iglesias the Unwanted episode. Janice De Belen, Herbert Bautista and Arlene Muhlach, who appeared in different episodes of the very first Shake, Rattle & Roll shown in 1984, starred in the Pamana episode. Good thing about the episode - all three acted well, with special mention to Janice De Belen. The second episope reminded me of Apocalypse Now and of soldiers-turned-cannibals, which made the news in the '80s. This, too, was an ensemble acting. Dennis Trillo did well. The third episode is memorable in that it's special effects are impressive.

Rating: Pamana - 3.0/4.0; Lost Command - 3.0/4.0; Unwanted - 2.5/4.0.

Kung Mawawala Ka Pa (Jose Avellana, 1994)
I only watched this because opening credits showed Reynal Films produced it and it showcased the acting prowess of Christopher De Leon and Dawn Zulueta. I don't want to go into details of what's it about. It's forgettable. The storyline is a rehash of a lot of films you'd seen in the past 30 years. I actually managed to read a book while watching it and still got the whole idea of the film. Even the acting of Christopher De Leon was a shame. Too amateurish.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Got 2 Believe (2002)
I never knew who directed the film. I'm not interested. The movie was a hit in theaters. It starred Rico Yan and Claudine Barretto. I don't want to write what it's about. It's not bad. Actually, I was entertained. Rico Yan and Claudine Barretto looked good together on screen.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Thursday, December 27, 2012


I think this is the final book that I read this year (2012); 39th book, 1 book short of my goal. Not bad. And this is the fourth book by the Norwegian Nobel Prize laureate that I actually finished reading - I did all these readings in 2012. Reading Knut Hamsun has always been satisfying.

This book centers on the struggles of a group of writers during the turn of 20th century in Norway. It looks simple but the details of the narrative are really worth-reading.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Knut Hamsun: PAN

This novel chronicles the encounters of Lt. Thomas Glahn, a hunter and former military man, with Edwarda and other minor characters during his self-exile in a forest. Most of the narrative is centered on his love affair with Edwarda, who he loses in the end. 

The main part of the narrative is told on the point of view of Glahn while the epilogue, that part in which he turns his back from his usual "almost-hermit" world, is told on on the point of view of another person, the one who killed him.

Reading it, I could sense a lot of symbolism, some I discerned, partly and wholly, some I didn't. But my overall reading experience was rewarding.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Sunday, December 23, 2012


According to a Persian folklore, there's a magical black stone that takes all the plight of those who talk to it in confidence. It's called the patience stone.

In this novel, a woman's patience stone is a dead-bread man, lying with a bullet in his neck. Here a woman speaks without boundaries all her complaints, disappointments, pain, resentment, desire, secrets, fear etc. These are things that an Afghan woman can't talk about or shouldn't talk about. In fact, an Afghan woman can't talk or should not talk at all. The novel is brave. It breaks taboos.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Saturday, December 22, 2012


This is the first novel of V.S. Naipaul, a Nobel Prize - winning author for Trinidad and Tobago. In this novel, the author writes about the life's journey of Ganesh which starts out as funny and ends up as touching and full of hope. Ganesh starts as a school primary-school teacher; when he fails, he becomes a masseur, then a mystic, then a writer, and so on.

Naipaul, when he writes, seems like he's touring the reader to different realms - his native land, his characters' minds, and his creative imagination. It's not difficult to read his books.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Film Review: The Beat That My Heart Skipped

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard, 2005)
In French, with English subtitles

In this film is one of the most intense performances (by a lead actor) I've seen on screen. The film shows a man in a crossroad. He seems to be on the same path as his father's, one that leads him to the Paris underworld of property dealings. His mother was a concert pianist, and his chance encounter with his mother's associate, puts him in the crossroad. 

The gangster subplot of the film reminds me of Martin Scorsese. The film has a Scorsese feel/touch. And it's really good.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: Homicide

Homicide (David Mamer, 1991)

David Mamet has never failed to amuse me (yet). The central character in this film is a good cop, working in the homicide section. It's no brainer that the film should be about homicide, or so I thought. In a David Mamet film, there's always a clever twist. In this film, homicide is just a scratch on the surface. There's more to this film that what it seems. For example: What makes a good cop who wants all of his assignments done succumb to betrayal? It's no longer about homicide.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: ROADSIDE PICNIC

Roadside Picnic, the book that inspired Andrei Tarkovsky's visually stunning film, Stalker, is the story of the so-called stalkers. These stalkers illegally enter the Zone to collect mysterious artifacts (believed to have been) left behind by visiting aliens. The black market pays a good price for such artifacts. But, Red Schuhart, a stalker, in one of his 'trips' to Zone, accompanied by another stalker, experiences the unexpected. Something goes wrong.

I saw the film adaptation (Stalker) two weeks ago and I liked it, if only for the visually stunning images. Having seen that film made me interested to read the book it was based from. This book. The film is not faithful to the book; it only gets the idea of the book. But it still manages to be an excellent work of art. I like the book, too, with all the important details in the back stories of the characters that matter.

As far as I can recall, this is my first attempt to read science fiction. I can't say I'll be a fan. But, it was worth my time. I enjoyed reading Roadside Picnic.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

William Faulkner: SANCTUARY

The story's theme is quite controversial: kidnapping and rape. The depiction of rape is quite shocking. Faulkner writes it in a narrative that looks simplistic but the evil it describes has reverberating effect. But more shocking is the false testimony of the victim. Just like that.

Did I enjoy reading it? Yes, but not as much as I enjoyed the more difficult As I Lay Dying.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Monday, December 10, 2012

Film Review: Winter Light

Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1962)
In Swedish, with English subtitles

A widowed pastor preaches before a small congregation. His preaching is mechanical; his faith in crisis. The theme of this small parable may seem controversial but for me it's one of those what-if situations that make a good story in book or in film. The film has the masterful touch of Ingmar Bergman; it leaves question that may stir one's consciousness. 

The pastor's suffering from cold, his inability to console the fisherman who suffers from anxiety, and the substitute school teacher's offering of her love as a substitute to the pastor's loss of faith are metaphors only genius minds can create. 

This is the second film in Bergman's controversial Silence of God Trilogy

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: Himala

Himala (Ishmael Bernal, 1982)
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

I saw this film three times in the past: twice on TV, once on DVD. All these times the film quality was bad. The only saving grace was the greatness of the film itself. When it was announced that the remastered version of the film would be shown again on big screen, I made it a point to see it hoping for a different experience. And, indeed, watching it on big screen made me rediscover a great Filipino classic film and discover some salient points that, in my opinion, had contributed to the film's even greatness.

The film is the story of a simple barrio lass (Elsa) who claims she has seen (and has talked to) Virgin Mary. Then she starts to heal people of their sickness; and people from nearby towns and pilgrims from all over the country flock to the once ghost-town-like barrio upon hearing of the miracle. Opportunists suddenly become enterprising. Politicians ride on the popularity of Elsa and her faith-healing miracles. 

Screenplay (by Ricky Lee), direction (by Ishmael Bernal), performances and austere camera work all contribute to the film's greatness. The screenplay is a subtle commentary on blind faith. The complex characterization of attention-seeking Elsa, which Nora Aunor effectively and almost effortlessly conveyed before the camera, is superb. There are scenes that, if you just pay close attention to, will make you really appreciate Nora Aunor's genius as an actor. These are scenes in which she doesn't even utter a word. You should read on her face Elsa's transformation from one who enjoys the attention accorded to her by the multitude, to the disgraced heroine, and to the doubting and afraid fake healer in the end. Her confession before her followers in the desert is one that has already gone down in the history of Filipino films. The actors were all great. Most noteworthy are the performances of Spanky Manikan (as the skeptic documentary film director who wants to make a story about Elsa and her miracle), Gigi Duenas (as Elsa's childhood friend who ends up as prostitute), and Ama Quiambao (as one of Elsa's die hard follower).

In my opinion, Himala is (one of the) greatest Filipino films ever made, and, probably Ishmael Bernal's best.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Carlos Ruiz Zafon: THE ANGEL'S GAME

David Martin, a struggling writer, narrates his story. He writes pulp fiction using pseudonym;  it has a good following. But when he tries to publish a serious novel using his real name, it flops. Critics call his work thrash. But the novel he has ghostwritten for a friend, published at the same time as the his novel, is lauded as a masterpiece. And this friend he ghostwrites for steals his true love. Then a mysterious benefactor disguising as a publisher contracts him to write a novel. A lot of strange happenings follow. The book looks like an interesting version of Dickens' Great Expectations, which actually makes it more intriguing for me.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon has control in his prose. He writes to sustain mystery until the end. His prose, in translation though, is crisp, but with occasional artful playing with words.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Friday, December 7, 2012

Film Review: Pieta

PIETA (Kim Ki-Duk, 2012)
In Korean, with English subtitles

Synopsis from (IMDB): A loan shark is forced to reconsider his violent lifestyle after the arrival of a mysterious woman claiming to be his long-lost mother.

The writing of this film is almost impeccable. I like the build-up of events (and character) that leads to the conclusion despite some mystery that I think the writer leaves out for the audience to figure out. Watching it, I had to remind myself that the film was directed by Kim Ki-Duk. I had a chance to see some of his films before. Watching his films is not easy, but not that the films are incomprehensible. Some scenes are easy to watch.

The lead actress delivered a brilliant performance that will be remembered. The film won the top prize in this year's Venice Film Festival and is the South Korea's entry to the Best Foreign Language Film category of this year's Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Monday, December 3, 2012

Film Review: The Cabin In The Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)

Sometimes I feel a sudden urge to see a horror film just to be entertained. I don't care if the film is dumb I chose to see The Cabin in the Woods because I heard people talk about it. I also read good reviews about it. Its Rotten Tomato rating is 91%. 

What I like about the film is that the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film is something I never expected. I thought it the film is just like the usual film of this genre with the reality-TV thing infused into it. I enjoyed the film despite a lot of gory sequences.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Film Review: Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

Laura and Alec are both married with children. Their chance and brief encounter at the train station immediately strikes a spark which leads to weekly rendezvous and an affair. 

Usually, one will pass judgement to the characters that allowed themselves to be entangled in such an affair. Do they ever feel guilt? What Laura and Alec feel for each other is intense and they know they can't be happy in the present situation. Their actions, while many will not agree, are just what they seem. And these are conveyed effectively by the actors (Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard). 

What make this film notable, in addition to controlled but great performances, are the characterization and the the black and white cinematography that adds mystery to the 'doomed' love affair. 

In the middle of the film I was actually got annoyed with the (in my opinion) excessive voice overs until I got to see later scenes that made me understood the motivation. This may not be as grand as other David Lean's films (e.g., Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India, Doctor Zhivago, Bridge on the River Kwai); however, this is an important title in the great director's filmography.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: Carnage

Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011)

The film is an adaptation of Yasmina Reza's award-winning play "God of Carnage." The story is about the meeting of the parents of two boys: one hurt the other in a brawl. The meeting is a mutual decision of both parties to discuss things civilly. But that's not what happens. The meeting ends up in one of the most hilarious comedies I've seen on screen. The so-called "carnage" is fun! I can't say about the play, I haven't seen it yet. One good thing about the film is the  way the writing has planted several inanimate objects in the meeting place that'll be used to supplant the characters of the four parents - the cellphone, the tulips, the handbag, the art books, etc.

The film, in my opinion, looks like it was made to look like a play. But that has been eclipsed by the wonderful performances of Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Film Review: 13 Assassins

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2009)
In Japanese, with English subtitles

Why does this film remind me of Seven Samurai? Anyone who saw the Akira Kurosawa classic will agree with me. But don't get me wrong, this film is not a copycat. This film may not be as great as Seven Samurai, however, it has its own flashes of genius. It is spectacular and truly epic.
In the film, thirteen samurais (mostly unemployed or masterless) are gathered to plot the assassination of the abusive younger brother of the shogun. The result is the bloodiest and dirtiest confrotation (i've seen on film) between the assassins and the soldiers that protect the younger brother of the shogun.
I never expected this film to be this good. I like it very much.
Rating: 4.0/4.0

Friday, November 30, 2012

Three Films: Eternal Summer, Astig, and Amorosa

ETERNAL SUMMER (Leste Chen, 2006)
In Mandarin, with English subtitles

Jonathan and Shane have been friends for ten years. A Taiwan-born Hong Kong girl with her own story transfers to their school. Shane secretly falls for her. Jonathan hides something. Actually, each one hides something from the other. How the coming of the girls stirs the friendship between the two boys while dealing with preparations for college and life after high school, in general, is the main theme of the movie. 

The film is endearing despite that it touches a sensitive topic.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

ASTIG (G.B. Sampedro, 2009)
In Filipino (Tagalog), with English subtitles

Squalor is the English title of this film. It competed in the 2009 edition of Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and won for Sampedro an award for directing.

The films tells the (intersecting) stories of four men in downtown Manila. One is a con artist. Another is the brother of a student who gets entangled in the con artist's web of lies. The other two are the heir of a Chinese businessman and an expectant father who peddles stolen goods.

The story-telling technique used, while not original, still looks interesting for this kind of movie. It must be the editing. The performances of the actors save the movie whose story is almost trite like you've seen it in some old movies and television shows. But it's still a decent movie to watch.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

AMOROSA (Topel Lee, 2012)
In Filipino (Tagalog)

After suffering from a vehicular accident, Rosa, with her children Amiel and Rommel, transfers to the old Pension House owned by Rosa's Aunt (IMDB). But the house is haunted by vengeful ghosts.

I don't know what to say about this film. It's formulaic. Despite its many short comings as a horror film, I was entertained. It's not totally bad, but it's far from being a good movie.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Film Review: The Sign of Leo

The Sign of Leo (Eric Rohmer, 1959)
In French, with English subtitles

The film chronicles the descent into despondency (or, is it destitution) of an American in Paris who strongly believes in astrology. At the start of the film, he's shown throwing parties with his small circle of friends using borrowed money. He believes he'll inherit money and some properties from a wealthy aunt, who just died. That, according to him, is what his birth sign suggests. But, something unexpected happens. 

The film is in black-and-white cinematography. I can't imagine this film in color and give me the same film experience as I had when I was watching it in black-and-white. I thought some of the numerous scenes depicting his descent into despondency were unnecessary. But, something happened in the last 10 minutes of the film, which I think, was clever. Then, I was convinced that all those scenes were really necessary. How the films ends is a little disturbing.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Strait is the Gate is a confusing story of sacrifice. It's not that the story is confusing. I just cannot actually fully understand the motivation of one character's sacrificing her love to the point of being a martyr. Is it religion? I'm not sure. I don't judge her but I think it's too much. What happened to her she certainly deserved. Maybe it's meant to be written that way.

In this book, the author writes in a style (I don't know what it is called) that, in my opinion, is effective in the character development of the two main and some supporting characters. Ambivalence, despair, sacrifice, and death as felt or experienced by the characters are written using this style so that anyone reading the book may feel the same. Maybe it's just me.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Monday, November 26, 2012

Film Review: Stalker

Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979)
In Russian, with English subtitles

Stalker, like most of Tarkovsky's films, is a stunning visual poetry. And, like many poems that we decide to be beautiful in the way the colorful tapestry of fancy and common words are wound, Stalker looks beautiful despite its hidden meanings as a parable.  Stalker as a film, like some beautiful poems with words that don't mean as they seem, is not an easy film. It's the reason it took me time to finally make it past the first half of the 161-minute long film. I have to emphasize that, although it's talky, it's never boring because the imagery and use of colors are things to behold.

Stalker is a science fiction film. In the film, three men travels to the Zone. The Zone is an industrial waste land, the ruins of a (once) industrial zone after a meteorite (or meteorites) fell on it. It's believed that any man who travels to the Zone, and collect artifacts left behind by aliens, will have his wishes come true. One of these men is the guide, the so-called stalker. They enter the Zone illegally. But something goes wrong.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Film Review: Lakeview Terrace

Lakeview Terrace (Neil Labute, 2008)

The film is about a scheming and, in my opinion, racist black cop who makes life difficult to a couple who have just moved to a house next to his in Lakeview Terrace. The new neighbors are couple of interracial marriage - the man is white, the wife black.

The cop is superbly played by Samuel L. Jackson. He's so good you'll actually hate him. His schemes are subtle but demonic. And this results to a film that is tantamount to a carefully thought-of thriller.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Friday, November 23, 2012

Film Review: Intouchables

Intouchables (Olivier Nakache, 2012)
In French, with English subtitles

The film is said to have been based on a true story; otherwise would have diluted it's impact because there had been similar films made before. I saw some. It's a good thing this film is presented as comedy. And I don't agree that it's irresponsible and insensitive to make a comedy film out of the bond between an ex-convict and a wealthy paraplegic. The script is so witty and, from it, a really funny, sometimes hilarious, but uplifting film has been made. There are scenes that are not consciously planted to desperately make people laugh, but you'll laugh at it anyway. Even on mundane things (they do) that would otherwise go unnoticed. This is the best comedy I've seen in years. I will watch it again one of these days, just to make myself laugh.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Film Review: Rango

Rango (Gore Verbinski, 2011)

Rango is an animated film, probably filmed in a Disney-like fashion. I'm saying this because at some point Disney animated films didn't excite me anymore. But I gave Rango a try because almost everyone says it's good. Even the Academy Awards agreed. 

Rango is an ugly-looking pet lizard (a chameleon to be specific). Right, he's ugly but charming (at least the way his character is written). Kudos to Jonhnny Depp for lending his voice to Rango. His adventures in the desert and hilarious if not pathetic interactions with unconventional desert creatures are actually conventional, or formulaic, as in Disney-animated films. But for some reason, I still enjoyed the film. It's s decent film in this genre.

Rating: 3.50/4.00

Monday, November 19, 2012

Film Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

A film like this comes only once in a while. It's a fantasy set in a not-so-pleasant-to-the-eye locale, a place they call Bathtub for obvious reason. The main protagonist in the film is a little girl called Hushpuppy, whose imagination is wild. She thinks of every human being, including herself, as a wild animal and that she can talk to beasts, either real or imagined. In the real world, she must find her place in the world as her father is ailing and the environment falls apart.

This is one of the most imaginative films I've seen in years. There are a few times that the film tends to be too sentimental. However, the freshness of the theme of the film eclipses that. Hushpuppy as a character is loveable although you may hate her in some scenes because of her stubbornness. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Film Review: Footnote

Footnote (Joseph Cedar, 2011)
In Hebrew, with English subtitles

Father and son are both Talmudic scholars. The father is appreciated in a small circle while the son has won significant accolades from a larger and more popular group of peers. Rivalry between father and son is sublimely hinted in the film. However, the film's narrative is focused on the examination of the complications of love, ambition, and generation issues. 

I almost gave up after (almost) half of the running time but the main conflict, which was interesting and clever, was hinted shortly after that, which kept me glued to the film. And I'm glad I finished the movie. Actually, after the main conflict was shown, I had to rewind the film to 3 chapters back. This helped to appreciate the film more.

This Israeli film was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category of last year's Academy Awards. It certainly deserved the nomination.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Friday, November 16, 2012

Film Review: Bully

This is Alex, one of the subjects in the documentary 
Bully (Lee Hirsch, 2011)

Bully, a.k.a. The Bully Project, is a documentary film on a sensitive subject that is peer-to-peer bullying in schools across the United States. 

I have heard (or read) about bullying among peers and its effect on the bullied individuals but the film, having had tackled some sensitive issues arising from bullying, is still an eye-opener. It's heart-breaking to learn of the plight of some individuals, dead or alive, who are featured in the film. I'm not sure if it's made to make the audience feel that way. However, the attempt to establish the connection between being bullied and suicide, I guess, is wanting.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Note: This was the 3rd (and last) film I saw on my flight from Manila to New York on October 28, 2012.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Film Review: The Illusionist

The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
In French, with English subtitles

This animated film from France earned a Best Animated Film nomination at the Oscar Awards. It is for this reason, in addition to the fact that it's made by Chomet, the same director who made The Triplets of Belleville, which I love, that I got interested in watching the film. I was expecting so much from this film, given the premise: an underpaid, aging illusionist travels from places to places to stage his acts, and earn, despite disinterested audience until he meets a young woman, interested in him or his tactics, who travels with him, and change his monotonous daily existence. The story-telling, however, is a little bit wanting, although it's presented in a way that, at least in my end, I can feel for the illusionist. Another good thing about the movie is the texture of the finished product, which captures the state of the city and of the illusionist's state of being. But it's still a worthwhile watch. I will always prefer this film to the film that beat it in the Academy Awards that year.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Note: This was the 2nd film I saw on the plane (MNL-JFK).

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Yasunari Kawabata: THE MASTER OF GO

I read the version the author (Yasunari Kawabata) preferred. Just his other novels, at least those that I've read, so far, The Master of Go is a minimalist treat. Despite this, however, it doesn't lose its brilliance. I felt for how the wonderfully written minimalist details of how the match (between the master of go and his young challenger), which lasted for several months, had affected the people around them - friends, family, on-lookers, and the person who covered the event for a newspaper. But, no matter how hard I tried to understand to understand the rules of Go, I still couldn't completely figure out how one could defeat his opponent. I only I could, I would have rate this book higher. I guess I will read this again in the future, when I already know the rule of the game.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Film Review: Stand By Me

Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986)

This must be the third or fourth time that I saw this film. And I think I will see it again in the future. This is how good this film is, in my opinion. The movie is an adaptation of the novella "The Body," part of the Stephen King's bestseller, Different Seasons, from which another prominent novella (Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption) is part of. All the four novellas in that collection have been adapted to film.

The Body (the novella) or Stand By Me (the film) both tell the 'adventures' of four friends, all boys, as they search the body of a missing boy. The believe they'll be heroes if they find the boy. In this journey, just like in any coming of age tales, they will discover things about themselves and about other things. This looks simplistic. Maybe it is. But, the way Stephen King wrote it makes the book unforgettable. And this proves that it's not only about horror stories that Stephen King is good at. He can write this good. And its translation into film is simply great. 

In the film, all four young actors, including the incredible River Phoenix, were likable. One could really feel what each of the boys was feeling, be it naughtiness, excitement, or fear. The supporting cast, which included Richard Dreyfuss, John Cusack and Kiefer Sutherland, were all memorable.

The film is truly unforgettable. It is one of my all-time favorite films.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Note: I saw this (for the nth time) on the plane on October 28, 2012 on my way to New York from Manila.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Film Review: La Fiesta Del Chivo

La Fiesta Del Chivo (Luis Llosa, 2005)
In Spanish, with English subtitles

If I didn't read the novel The Feast of the Goat, which is the English translation of La Fiesta Del Chivo, by Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, before I saw the film, I wouldn't have noticed that there were things in the novel that had been left out in the film adaptation. And the film would have been great in my opinion. But I really did read the book and liked it very much so that, in my opinion, the story in the book would be given justice only if the film would be stretched in a way similar to mini-series. In the book were three different story lines. In the film however, there just seemed to be one story line, which was not bad. However, it made the movie in the league of some forgettable movies of similar story lines.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Film Review: Argo

Argo (Ben Affleck, 2012)

Ben Affleck in Argo
The film Argo is based on a declassified true story. It dramatizes the events involving the clandestine repatriation of 6 American Embassy workers trapped in a turmoil in Iran in 1979. The secret operation was staged by CIA and Canada in a seriously funny way.

There's a lot of things that I admire about the film. It's not an action film but it's cardiac. In fact, much better than most action films I've seen. Kudos to the writing and editing. In the last 10 to 15 minutes I was at the edge of my seat in the almost empty movie house. This is a true story so I know how it will end, but the way it is told in film syntax is excellent. 

The film, I suppose, is homage to Star Wars (George Lucas). For you people who have seen Hidden Fortress (Akira Kurosawa, 1958) should know what I mean - the manner by which the trapped workers were smuggled from the turmoil (although that's really how it happened) as shown in the film is very Hidden Fortress, which is the inspiration of Star Wars. And the execution is really praise-worthy.

This is an excellent film. So far, Ben Affleck has a good track record in directing. He directed The Town (2010) and Gone Baby Gone (2007).

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Film Review: Incendies

Incendies (Denis Villeneuve, 2010)
In French and Arabic, with English subtitles
Nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film (Academy Awards) 2010 - from Canada

Following the death of their mother, a pair of twins learn about their father and an older brother, who according the letter left by their mother, are still alive. So, away they go to the Middle East to scavenge for clues that will lead them to their father and older brother.

If there's one word that will aptly describe the movie, it will be devastating. But that description doesn't mean the movie is not good. On the contrary, it's so good that my jaw dropped as a gesture of full appreciation of the way the film is presented. The sparsely distributed melodramatic (or, emotion-charged)  scenes didn't dilute the impact of the movie. This is a highly recommended viewing.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: Ministry of Fear

Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944)

This film adaptation of a Graham Greene novel begins with the main character celebrating his return to the real world after having been instituted in a mental asylum for two years. He goes to a 'carnival' where he wins a box of cake after having closely guessed the weight of it. The cake, however, is intended to be won by a Nazi agent. So, what's in the cake? I will not reveal it here. But, whatever is that thing inside the cake is the cause of all his troubles; he becomes tangled in a complicated web of espionage involving the Nazi.

The film is decent. It's supposed to be in the league of early Hitchcock films. Well, I got that same feeling as when I saw any Hitchcock films of this genre. In my opinion, however, the film adaptation would be better had Hitchcock made it. It's a good thing that the film is in black-and-white.

Rating: 3.50/4.0

Mario Vargas Llosa: THE FEAST OF THE GOAT

I didn't know about the author when I randomly picked this book 10 years ago from a local bookstore. It's the blurb on the back cover of the book that convinced me to buy it, and later read it. It took some time before I finished reading it. The narrative style the author used was, for me, quite difficult that most of the time I'd be lost. I remember liking the book despite the shocking depiction of violence, sex, torture and decadence in it. Some of such scenes I wouldn't forget for some time. Having had liked it encouraged me to try Vargas Llosa's other books. I bought several of his books although I only managed to read some - Conversation in the Cathedral, In Praise of the Stepmother, The Bad Girl, Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. This is the second time I read The Feast of the Goat. I have a better appreciation of it now because I paid attention to the narrative style, which is similar to that used in Conversation in the Cathedral, which I also like very much.

The three story lines - the return of Urania Cabral to Dominican Republic after more than 30 years of absence, the plot to kill the Goat (the tyrant ruler of then Ciudad Trujillo), and the story of the Goat himself - are written in a way that reading it feels like I am watching a well-made film that is riddled with flash backs and flash forwards. Although the shift from the storyline in the present to that in the past is usually without warning, the experience of having get used to it is very rewarding. 

Mario Vargas Llosa has written many good books. This one is among his best, a masterpiece indeed. And it's not a fluke that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2010, one that he truly deserves.

Rating: 5.0/5.0

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Film Review: A Short Film About Love

A Short Film About Love (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988)

I don't know how to start. I'm still in awe having had just watched this film a few minutes ago. I never expected it'll be this good. Contrary to what the title suggests, the film is not really a short film. Is it really about love? Maybe. Maybe not. But there's one thing sure: there's not even a minute that any distraction succeeded in taking my attention away from the film. I got so engrossed that I didn't want the film to end. But it had to end anyway. It is maybe due to this that it's called short.

Irony is excellently depicted in the film. In the film, Tomek, a 19-year-old boy spies on Magda, liberated, fornicating, mature woman who lives in an apartment in the tower just across his. Why does this remind me of Rear Window? But no, this film has nothing to do with the Hitchcock film. Tomek is in love with Magda. No, he's so obsessed that he does things you never expect a harmless boy like him to do just to be near Magda, or stalk her.

The lighting design for the film, I think, is the major factor to the film's excellent cinematography. Every scene looks like well-thought-of during the writing phase. While the film may bore some, because of the theme, it kept my eyes and ears glued to the screen.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: Blue Velvet

Isabella Rossellini and Kyle MacLachlan in BLUE VELVET
Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)

The film's narrative centers on Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle MacLachlan) an innocent (or, innocent-looking) college guy who has shown interest (or, obsession) in demystifying what looks like a simple life in a simple American city after he stumbles upon a severed human ear on the grass. He's back in town to visit his father who's been hospitalized. His interest in the mystery behind the severed human ear leads into being tangled in an underworld of drugs, kidnapping and murder. 

The film has its flaws. However, the symbolism of the bugs that have been prevalent throughout the film is a welcome ingredient to the greatness of the film. The clever use of colors as symbolism also spices up the art the film innately has. Although, some scenes are difficult to watch, the film turns out to be unforgettable.

David Lynch earned in 1986 a Best Director nomination from the Academy for this film. The National Society of Film Critics singled out this film as the best of that year.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: The Song of Bernadette

The Song of Bernadette (Henry King, 1943)

Jennifer Jones in The Song of Bernadette
The film recounts the events in Lourdes, France after a young woman (Bernadette Soubirous) claims that a lady (Virgin Mary as The Immaculate Conception) appeared before her while hunting for fire wood. In the film, the clash between skepticism and faith is well-maneuvered so as to avoid appearing forcing religious truth into the audience. It's told as it was recorded in history, but with some touch of artfulness. There's no  tinge of  melodrama in it. Maybe if there is, it's so subtle I never noticed it.

This may not make the top of the list of greatest films ever made, but in my book it deserves a high mark for achievement in writing and (memorable) performances. Jennifer Jones won an Academy award for her rousing performance as Bernadette.

Rating: 4.0/4.0