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.