Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Movie No. 200 (2013): SAVING MR. BANKS

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, Paul Giamatti

Mary Poppins almost didn't make it to its screen adaptation. This film tells the untold story of Walt Disney's herculean task to convince P.L. Travers, the headstrong writer who created the Mary Poppins character in her books, to sell him the rights to film Mary Poppins. 

The film is generally funny as it is sweet and delightful to watch. Emma Thompson gives an A+ performance. Tom Hanks is likable as Walt Disney. The rest of the cast also do well. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 31, 2013

Movie No. 199 (2013): A BAREFOOT DREAM

A Barefoot Dream (2010)
Director: Kim Tae-gyun
Cast: Park Hee-soon, Ko Chang-seok
In Korean, Portuguese and Japanese with English subtitles

Mr. Kim, a retired professional soccer player, ends up visiting East Timor after a series of failed business attempts. Partly, he's into hiding from his creditors in Seoul. Immediately, he senses a business opportunity after seeing local kids playing soccer barefoot on dusty and pebbly pitches. He opens a store for sports goods that locals can't afford. Then he comes up with a scheme to lure the kids into buying his cleats on a ridiculous but generous installment plan. Things don't go as planned and, before he realizes it, he's already coaching the kids, giving them hope to compete in an international meet.

Movies like this are expected to be inspiring, especially that it's based on a true story. The occasional melodramatic scenes do not dilute the film's art. What makes the film even better is the tackling of internal issues of the troubled past of the East Timor that's reflected in some important characters. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 31, 2013

Movie No. 198 (2013): FRUITVALE STATION

Fruitvale Station (2013)
Directort: Ryan Coogler
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer

On the first day (or first hour) of 2009, a 22-year-old young African-American who lived in the Bay Area was unjustly shot while having an argument with a police officer at the Fruitvale Station. This film is the dramatization of the events leaving to that incident.

As a film based on a true story, it gives an intimate glimpse of Oscar's complex but troubled psyche as a young father. This is the most notable thing from the movie that's worth the experience of seeing it.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 30, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Movie No. 197 (2013): GLORIA

Gloria (2013)
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Cast: Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez
In Spanish, with yellow English subtitles

Sometimes love's just ain't enough. But for a couple, a woman in his mid-50's and a man some years older than her, a "new relationship" is worth giving a try. They're both divorcees with grown-up children from previous marriage. The woman is Gloria, a richly layered character that, when carefully and meticulously played, can potentially give the actress am acting award. Paulina Garcia as Gloria gets the Best Actress plum from this year's Berlin Film Festival.  

I've seen movies about old couple in love. In a lot of cases, the romance is presented as cutesy. This movie avoids that manipulation. Instead, the movie tackles some realistic constraints with realistic extrapolations of such constraints' effects on the couple's relationship. It's quite clear that the couple are the type that refuse to disappear in the picture now that they're no longer young. This given adds another dimension to the movie's milieu. I like the way the movie opens with Gloria dancing in a crowd of strangers and the it way ends showing Gloria (still) dancing in a party of friends and strangers. On the one hand, I find the movie depressing; on the other, it's liberating.

This movie is Chile's entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 86th Academy Awards.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 30, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Movie No. 196 (2013): RUSH

Rush (2013)
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl

I know practically nothing about Formula 1 racing. I don't find it interesting. I didn't know Rush is about the real-life rivalry of two celebrities of this sport (if you call it sport) during the 1970s. Despite these given, however, I find the Ron Howard-directed film thrilling, while avoiding triteness in the drama. The two main characters are presented as human, with all their vulnerabilities, and not as fancy heroes. In addition to superb editing, Daniel Bruhl's performance is something to take note of.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: December 26, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Movie No. 195 (2013): FROZEN

Frozen (2013)
Director: Chris Buck / Jennifer Lee
Voice Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel

"The Snow Queen" casts a spell trapping her entire kingdom in eternal winter. The queen's sister, Anna, believing the queen has a good heart after all, teams up with the "ice man" and a bunch of misfits (a reindeer, a talking snowman, and trolls) to find the queen and put an end to her spell. The usual thing like only true love can save the day is part of the story's formula. Of course, there's scheme of betrayal on the side. But the most interesting thing about the movie is the "true love" twist itself.

Nice movie. Entertaining. But, there's nothing so special about it. The musical numbers are so out of place. The film can be better without them. It left me cold.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: December 24, 2013


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Movie No. 194 (2013): GRAVITY

Gravity (2013)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Cast: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

One thing I'm in so much agreement with the movie, especially with the character Dr. Ryan projected: When you're desperate, or can't do anything about the ugly situation you get tangled in, you just let it be, and whether your survive in one piece or get burned alive, it'll be one hell of a ride.

Trust me, the movie, which, in a way, is like a gravity appreciation visual aid in a physics class, is one hell of a story. There are only two characters: Dr. Ryan (Sandra Bullock) and Lt. Kowalski (George Clooney). This is the very first time that I really appreciate Sandra Bullock's thespian prowess in effectively acting out the mortal fear in Dr. Ryan's head as she's trying everything to survive the space mishap. George Clooney (or his character) is so endearing and admirable as an astronaut in his last space walk. The movie had taken me to the edge of my seat after the first 15 or 20 minutes of characterization phase to the last scene before the end credits. Again, it's one hell of a ride. 

Alfonso Cuaron, one of the most under appreciated directors, certainly deserves a recognition for his work here. While I consider this as his most ambitious and best film, so far, his other great films are still worth mentioning, like Y Tu Mama Tambien, A Little PrincessChildren of Men and The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 15, 2013

Monday, November 18, 2013

Movie No. 193 (2013): THE STORY OF ADELE H.

The Story of Adele H. (1975)
Director: Francois Truffaut
Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Bruce Robinson
In English and French, with English subtitles

This is a story of a young woman's obsession and descent into madness. The woman, who assumes different names while chasing and spying on the man who promised to marry her but had abandoned her for call of duty instead, happens to be the youngest daughter of Victor Hugo. The story is based on the coded diaries of Adele Hugo, who died at the age of 85.

Isabelle Adjani did an outstanding work in essaying the degeneration of Adele Hugo "as she obsessively follows the man who promised her marriage from Guernsey to Halifax to Barbados." 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 17, 2013

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Movie No. 192 (2013): TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN

Take The Money And Run (1969)
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Janet Margolin

It's a given that a Woody Allen film is fun to watch. We'll it's dome mockumentary style and, as one, it's meant to be hilarious. If I saw it during the time of its release, or even a few months after, I would have laughed out loud in most scenes. But then, I couldn't respond positively to its gags.

Take The Money And Run is the story of a clumsy gangster who dreams of making the top ten list of most wanted criminals. He's to serve 800 years for all the counts of crime he committed, but tries to reduce it to half by good deeds. Most of his adventures and misadventures and his genesis are told on the points of view of the people who know him.

Rating: 1.5/4.0

Date seen: November 17, 2013

Movie No. 191 (2013): FRANCES HA

Frances Ha (2013)
Director: Noah Baumbach
Cast: Greta Gerwig, Grace Gummer

One sure thing: I love this movie. Despite her faults, Frances is a charming character - a twenty-something girl who lives in New York. But, in New York, everyone is goal oriented. She's not. She's living aimlessly. She can't even afford a decent apartment. She's an apprentice in a dance company, but she's not really a dancer. In all that she does, she tries to "belong"; even does things beyond her means. Pretentious you mall call her. But you'll love her (more than feel sorry for her) just the same. This means, the lead actress is outstanding in bringing out the character.

While Frances Ha will not make the list of greatest films ever made, it is great in its own right. The script is unsentimental. There's actually some "practical wit" in it. It's easy to mistake it for a Woody Allen's, specially that it's set in New York.

By the way, the movie is in black-and-white, and David Bowie's "Modern Love" in the background serves like an effective "garnish" to an already good product.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 17, 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013

Movie No. 190 (2013): MUD

Mud (2013)
Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Reese Witherspoon, Sam Shephard, Michael Shannon, Jacob Lofland

Two boys, Ellis and Neckbone, find a fugitive in a small, snake-infested island in Mississippi. In what seems like Great Expectation-esque turn of events at the start of the movie, the two boys (specially Ellis) form a bond with the fugitive who introduces himself as Mud. The boys learn from Mud some fantastic truth about his hiding in the island: he says he killed a man in Texas, now bounty hunters are after him, and he's in the island waiting for his girlfriend to escape together to somewhere. The boys, skeptical at first, agree on a deal to help Mud. On the side, Ellis deals with growing pains. His parents are on the verge of divorce. He misinterprets a girl's fondness of him for a reciprocation of his crush on her.

The best thing about the film is the way it takes time to unfold the story and the back stories that contribute to the development of important characters. And it appears that all of the characters, even the minor ones, are important. Even the three women characters which are portrayed in the film in a way that might attract the ire of some overreacting feminists are very vital in the coming-of age of the boys, specially Ellis.

This is truly an exceptional film with outstanding performances.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 3, 2013

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Movie No. 189 (2013): CORALINE

Coraline (2009)
Director: Henry Selick
Voice cast: Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, John Hodgman

Coraline, a stubborn young girl, discovers a secret door in her new house that leads to a parallel universe - an alternate version of her life that is much better in every way. There she has "other parents." Adventurous as she is, she easily adapts to living in both worlds, getting the best that both worlds have to offer. But when the "other parents" try to keep her in the alternated world forever, she has to rely on her own strength to trick the "other parents" so that she can return to his parents in the real world.

Stop-motion animation is still best in making scenes funny, creepy, and, overall, entertaining, in most films that are meant to be animated film. Coraline is no exception. I can't think of any format to adapt this Neil Gaiman's story into film other than animation. This may not be one of the best animated films ever made, but (soon) it will certainly be a classic the future generation will enjoy.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 3, 2013

Movie No. 188 (2013): IN THE FOG

In The Fog (2012)
Director: Sergei Loznitsa
Cast: Vladimir Svirski, Vlad Abashin, Sergei Kolesov
In Russian, with English subtitles

The titular "fog" is mostly metaphorical, i.e., the fog of war affecting the lives of the people in a small Belarus town. But it can also be literal in the way it is presented in some important scenes to obscure things that the people of the town (and the audience watching the movie) should see. The film centers on three men, all members of a resistance group against the German occupation of Belarus. Sushenya is accused of being a traitor after he's freed by the Germans while the others who were arrested with him, on accusation of sabotaging the railways, were hanged. Now branded as a traitor, he patiently awaits in his house for comrades in the resistance group to bring him notice of execution as punishment for traitors. Burov, Sushenya's long time friend, and another man appear in his house to materialize his punishment. But something unexpected happens instead, which will stall the execution. Then we get to know some back stories of these three characters that should make us understand how they end up in the foggy forest.

Admirable camera works, particularly on some scenes shot using hand-held camera to make a point, are well placed. The cinematography sharply captures the milieu of 1942 Belarus during the inclusive period considered in the story. It's a clever decision to use thick fog to created suspense in the last minute of the movie. The narrative, though far from being original, is written the way it's expected to be written. While the movie is serious through and through, without any tinge of humor and hope in it, watching it is one that's worth my time.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 2, 2013  

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Movie No. 187 (2013): CHILD'S POSE

Pozitia Copilului (a.k.a. Child's Pose) (2013)
Director: Calin Peter Netzer
Cast: Luminita Gheorghiu, Bogdan Dumitrache
In Romanian, with English subtitles

Golden Bear Winner at 2013 Berlin Film Festival. Romania's entry to the Best Foreign Language Film race at the 86th Academy Awards.

A wealthy middle-aged mother meddles with her only son's life when she feels she's losing him to his girlfriend, who's a single mother. The son surely despises this. But she sees a chance, ironically, when her son gets involved in a highway accident that caused the death of a 14 year old boy. She's wealthy. She'll do favors for her son to avoid jail. She'll use her connections. She'll meddle with police procedures. She'll tamper evidence. She'll try to bribe the witness. And she'll do a 'drama queen' performance before the boy's bereaved parents. Anything a mother will do to protect her child. But the thing with this movie is that it's one that relies on effectiveness of the actors' performances. Luminita Gheorghiu didn't falter. In fact, she's so good at being irritating, which is exactly what her character calls for. And the rest of the cast are as convincing so that everything appears authentic.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 2, 2013

Movie No. 186 (2013): THE WALL

Die Wand (a.k.a. The Wall) (2013)
Director: Julian Polsler
Cast: Martina Gedeck
In Austrian/German, with English subtitles

This existentialist movie explores the theme of isolation or solitude, and it does just great in such genre. The film follows the life of an unnamed woman who suddenly finds herself alone in a scenic mountain pasture, separated from the rest of the world by an impenetrable glass wall boundary. 

The film has certain levels of originality in its exposition and style. The cinematography, despite capturing postcard beauty backdrop of most scenes, still managed to convey loneliness that can affect the audience who may have been absorbed into the milieu. Martina Gedeck just gave a mesmerizing portrayal of a woman in a "forced" hermetic existence.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 2, 2013

Movie No. 185 (2013): THE BAD SLEEP WELL

The Bad Sleep Well (1960)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura
In Japanese, with English subtitles

This film, although arguably having the feel of Rashomon and High and Low, is departure from the Samurai-themed films that made Akira Kurosawa an international household name, particularly to serious cinema lovers. This may not be as great as Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Ran, etc., but it is certainly an integral part of Kurosawa's illustrious filmography.

The movie is set in post-war Japan. It tells the story of a scheming, avenging, illegitimate son of the disgraced assistant chief of a big corporation (which got caught in the web of a scandal), who, he believed, to have been forced to commit suicide. He sees corruption exposed before him as he desperately (and anonymously) attempts to climb the corporate ladder, starting with marrying his boss's cripple daughter. The elaborate wedding ceremony at the start of the film appears like a prologue to the film, giving hints of things to see as the film reel turns. His scheme is stalled when something unexpected occurs to him. And yes, the bad really sleep well. 

Many say this film is Kurosawa's loose interpretation of Shakespeare's Hamlet. He didn't admit it. But, toward the middle of the film, I did really think of Hamlet. But, yes, very loose semblance. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 1, 2013

Friday, November 1, 2013

Movie No. 184 (2013): THE HUNT

The Hunt (2012)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Annika Wedderkopp
In Danish, with English subtitles

The movie is basically an examination of a random lie that goes 'viral,' resulting in the destruction of an innocent man's life. This is akin to a "witch hunt," where it's easy for people to rush to judgement even if they don't know the 'inside story' of the allegation. What's interesting in this movie is that the lie comes from a child. Isn't it that people always believe that children don't lie? So, it's dangerous when they lie because we tend to believe them. And that lie can destroy someone else's life. This is the premise of this movie.

In addition to the movie's well-thought-of script, the movie also boasts of memorable performances, particularly that of Mads Mikkelsen's. He's so good that I suppose, if these were an American production, he could be an easy shoo-in the Academy Awards Best Actor nominees. The movie is Denmark's entry in the Best Foreign Language category. I think it has a good chance to be in the January 2014 short list.

At some level the movie is frightening, an unconscious ingredient that makes the movie gripping, but uncomfortable to watch. I guess that's intentional because the theme of the movie is difficult to handle. Some directors may opt to reduce the film into a preachy melodrama, which can be irritating. But the film refuses to sink into sentimentality. 

The Hunt is cinema at it's best.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 1, 2013

Monday, October 28, 2013

Movie No. 183 (2013): BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Before Midnight (2013)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Jesse and Celine will go down in the history of cinema as popular couple and characters in a film. They had a chance meeting on a Vienna-bound train in 1994, strolled Paris while talking about a lot of thing, and parted ways before sunrise the day after. They met again after nine years, did some catching up, and parted ways again before sunset of that day. This movie, Before Midnight, the third installment in what appears to be a trilogy, is set in Greece, nine years after Jesse and Celine's last meeting in Before Sunset. Now they're living together with their twin daughters. In the movie they're spending the last day of their summer vacation in southern Greece.

Watching it is like watching a film written by Woody Allen. I mean witty dialogues and intelligent screenplay. This is one kind of movie whose greatness relies much on the dialogues and the actors who effectively deliver them on the basis of how the characters they play would do, complemented with appropriate body movements. I was expecting it to be a romantic movie. Indeed, to some level it is a romantic movie. But the movie has some horrifying aspects that give it some complexity and another layer. Just listen to the incessant debate of the couple leading to the film's conclusion, which, by the way, is masterfully executed. And I will not be surprised if, another nine years from now, a fourth sequel will be shown. Will they call it Before Dawn or Before Twilight? Just kidding.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 28, 2013   

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Movie No. 182 (2013): NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS

Neighbouring Sounds (2012)
Director: Kleber Mendonca Filho
Cast: Irandhir Santos, Gustavo Jahn
In Portuguese, with English subtitles

Synopsis, from ROTTEN TOMATOES:
A history of oppression and violence threatens to engulf the residents of an affluent seaside community in this film. A palpable sense of unease hangs over a city block in the coastal town of Recife in Brazil. Home to prosperous families and the servants who work for them, the area is ruled by an aging patriarch and his sons. When a private security firm is reluctantly brought in to protect the residents from a recent spate of petty crime, it unleashes the fears, anxieties and resentments of a divided society still haunted by its troubled past.

It's easy to get lost in this movie. One layer of it discusses social class. Another layer lets us peek into some characters' mysterious lives. Then there's the tapestry of interesting idiosyncrasies of the characters who may or may not be associated with the place's history of violence. This is a kind of film that tests patience. The film's running time is 2 hours 5 minutes, but it's in the last 3 minutes that everything will make sense. I almost gave up to finish seeing the film. But I'm glad I stayed until the end; my patience paid off. The film's use of space and eerie sounds add to the film's greatness. At some point I felt like I was watching a horror film because of excellent aural orchestration. But thinking of what the central story is about, there's indeed some elements of horror in it. But not in the usual way we perceive horror in horror films.

I didn't expect the way it ended. But it's grand!

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 27, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Movie No. 181 (2013): LE PASSE (a.k.a. The Past)

The Past (a.k.a. Le Passe)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa
In French and Farsi, with English subtitles

The situation and characters in this film are so interesting they can keep you glued to every scene. A mother of two, her estranged Iranian husband, the man she will marry, a rebellious teenage daughter, a wife in coma, a stubborn 8-year-old son, an illegal worker, a broken suitcase, the stain in the laundry, and email messages are the characters and "planted" things that populate the intelligently-written screenplay of this film. It's very clever to use these things effectively to bring about the personalities of every character in this movie. In some scenes some of these inanimate things are used as metaphor to the inner demons of some characters. 

The basic plot of this movie is very simple, but the buildup of tension is so unexpected it sustains the suspense. Like the director's other movie, A Separation, which won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards two years ago, The Past is also tinged with some Hitchcockian flavor. In the movie, a mother of two is reunited with her estranged husband who has just flown all the way from Iran to France to finalize their divorce application. But, she is already living with the man she will marry once. Her estranged husband will stay in their house while attending to the divorce proceedings. How is that as contributory to the tension buildup in the already strained relationship? But everything appears to be smooth-sailing until her rebellious teenage daughter reveals something from the past out of torment. It's after this that the succeeding scenes become "explosive" until the final scene.

This is so far the best film of the 2013 batch that I've seen so far. Maybe, one of the best of the films of the last two or three years. It's as good as A Separation. I will not be surprised if this films gives the director his second Oscar.

Rating: 4.0(+)/4.0

Date seen: October 20, 2013

Movie No. 180 (2013): EVIL DEAD

Evil Dead (2013)
Director: Fede Alvarez
Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas

A group of friends chanced upon the 'chained' Book of the Dead while on vacation in an old cabin in the midst of a forest. They unchain it, unknowingly unleashing the demons that will possess and dispose them to gory death one by one leaving and just one fighting for survival. That's what basically the movie is about. If it sounds familiar, it's because it's a remake of the much better and 'funnier' 1981 original. And this kind of plot has been rehashed so many times in different form.

The film is practically a "gorefest" and "borefest" at the same time. It didn't frighten the hell out of me. I got irritated instead, and that's the horrifying part.

Rating: 1.5/4.0

Date seen: October 15, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Movie No. 179 (2013): STOKER

Stoker (2013)
Director: Chan-wook Park
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska

After his father's tragic death, India has to deal with living alone with his unstable mother and an uncle, his father's brother. she never knew existed until his father's death. At first, India suspects his uncle of having to do with his father's death, but later circumstances lead to her being infatuated with him.

The film is directed by famous Korean director, Chan-wook Park. It is expected that the movie is stylish in the way he presented to some of his masterpieces (e.g., Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance). But, in  my opinion, this movie is more of style, diluting the content. There's nothing special about the plot, if that's the plot. It's overused. The twist is not worth 0.5-magnitude earthquake. In some cases, the unclear motivation of murderous characters in doing their actions help buildup the mystery, resulting in critically-raved product. But, it doesn't work here for some reason. I keep on asking: "Why is he or she behaving the way he or she does?" And the ending is... what's that? But the technical aspects are good.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: October 15, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Movie No. 178 (2013): L'ESQUIVE

L'Esquive (a.k.a. Games of Love and Chance) (2003)
Director: Abdel Kechiche
Cast: Osman Elkharraz, Sara Forestier
In French, with English subtitles

Krimo is a high school toughie who's just been dumped by his girlfriend. Immediately, he develops a crush on his classmate, Lydia, who's into classics and drama. Funny thing, he also develops interest in classics and drama and volunteers to be the replace his classmate who's to play lead to Lydia's character. But Magali, the girl who has just dumped Krimo, doesn't like Krimo's closeness to Lydia. This conflict will lead to an interesting story involving them and all the other people around them, mostly their friends and kin. 

The best thing about the movie is the rawness of attack of all the first-time actors on their respective characters, especially Osman Elkharraz' Krimo and Sara Forestier's Lydia. The presence of practically all neophyte actors on the screen feels like watching a very interesting reality show. The screenplay succeeds in making the lives of these teenagers parallel or intersect the classic their class is having a stage production of. A minor downside, though, is the repetitious scenes that convey the same message. I suppose that's just the way it should be, after all such scenes involve takes on rehearsals. Typical teenager problems are presented a matter-of-fact. without the irritating melodrama. The theme is universal.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: October 14, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013


The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
Director: Felix van Groeningen
Cast: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh
In Flemish, with English subtitles

This film is Belgium's entry to the Best Foreign Language Film category of Academy Awards. Synopses of this film on different websites are one in describing  it as melodrama. Indeed it is, but it's a far cry from being a tearjerker like most melodramas are. But still, it can make you cry. Some situations can be a pin to burst those tear glands without even trying.

The lead characters in this movie are an odd couple. Didier is a bluegrass singer, an atheist who's crazy about America. Elise is a tattoo artist, a devout catholic. It's quite interesting that it's the difference in their faith and fundamental beliefs that makes their bond stronger. Then tragedy sets in. And what used to be their unifying bond becomes the object of their disputes, which will threaten their marriage.

The movie is told with dizzying editing style. It's when you get used to it that you'll appreciate the technique. It certainly makes the movie more interesting. The script is bold. Characterization is creative. The bluegrass music is itself an important character. The symbolism is something to note.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 14, 2013

Movie No. 176 (2013): SARONG BANGGI

Sarong Banggi (2005)
Director: Emmanuel dela Cruz
Cast: Jaclyn Jose, Angelo Ilagan
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

This film was an entry in the 2005 Cinemalaya Film Festival. I didn't hear about the film until Jaclyn Jose won an Urian Best Actress award for this film in 2006. Urian noticed her performance in what looked like a film nobody saw. That made me curious. After 7 years, I finally got to see it. The film is really worth seeing if only for Jaclyn Jose's controlled acting. For me, that's the best she'd done in her acting career, so far. Her thinking-aloud scenes and monologues are the best part of the movie. Angelo Ilagan's innocent-looking face is perfect for his role, which he used effectively. For a neophyte actor, his performance is more than passable. 

In the movie, Jaclyn Jose is Melba, a prostitute in her late 30s. She still looks beautiful. Angelo is Nyoy, a teenager who is about to be 'baptized' into manhood. The night Melba and Nyoy meet is the night before Nyoy's (probably eighteenth) birthday. For Melba, it's just one ordinary night of hooking. For Nyoy, it's something else. But fate plays a cruel and twisted game on them. That night will change one of them, or both of them forever.

While the twist appears overused in a lot of movies and TV series, it still manages to make the movie worth seeing, almost a breath of relatively fresh air. It's the aftermath of that twist that matters, and will always matter. The movie is bittersweet. Maybe sad. Or liberating. But's it's a really good movie.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: October 14, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Movie No. 175 (2013): CHICO & RITA

Chico & Rita (2010)
Directors: Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
Animated film; In Spanish, with English subtitles

The film follows the tumultuous love affair of Chico Valdes and Rita Martines. Chico, a gifted pianist and songwriter, and Rita, a sultry singer, met in 1940s Havana, Cuba. They fell in love with each other and dreamed of making it big in New York. But things were what they seemed. And the encounters, betrayals, false hopes, and some other things that tested their fate were as playful and tormenting as bolero.

Despite its being an animated film, Chico & Rita captured effectively in its cinematography the Havana, New York, and Las Vegas milieu during the time when jazz conquered the live music industry of such places. The film itself soothing to the eyes and its music is soothing to the ears.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 13, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Movie No. 174 (2013): SWEET MUD

Sweet Mud (Adama Meshuga'at) (2006)
Director: Dror Shaul
Cast: Tomer Steinhof, Runit Yudkevitch
In Hebrew and French, with English subtitles

A young boy growing up in a progressive kibbutz has to deal with his emotionally unstable mother, developing a crush on a girl his age, and some ugly things he discovers about some people who populate the kibbutz. Conflict arises when his mother invites her Swiss boyfriend whom she met while being rehabilitated in a mental asylum. It's so clever for the script to use the copulating of unleashed dogs and the death of one as an excuse to ostracize the couple, resulting in the Swiss leaving the boy's mother. A plan to escape results in the discovery of a dirty secret that will change the lives of the young boy, his mother, and the girl that the boy has a crush on.  

The film is a typical coming of age story, only this time it's set in a kibbutz system. Mental illness, conformity, and and culture are the center around which the story revolves. Watching it feels like being thrown into a completely different world. The film is practically perfectly acted. The cinematography captures the milieu very effectively. This a must-see for anyone who's interested in world cinema.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 12, 2013

Movie No. 173 (2013): I'M SO EXCITED

I'm So Excited (2013)
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Javier Camara,Cecilia Roth, Paz Vega
In Spanish, with English subtitles

In this film, a flight from Spain to Mexico faces a serious technical problem more than an hour after takeoff. To keep the passengers from panic, the crew drugged the passengers in the economy class to sleep. But in the business class section and cockpit, something else is happening, while the plane is flying in circles in the skies just above Toledo, in Spain. This as an Almodovar film, so an outrageous comedy can happen even in the most dire circumstances. Put a bisexual pilot, a confused co-pilot, an almost all-gay crew, an assassin, a swindler, an old-maid with psychic powers and who's a self-confessed virgin, an ageing porn star, a two-timing actor, and a newly wed in a cabin, and they'll do things that can only happen in dreams just to ignore their fears.

The film, as expected is wacky, irreverent, and grotesque. But, in my opinion this film is so inferior compared to other Almodovar films that I saw in the past. Screenplay is horrible. One liners are so forced and pretentious. Production design also fails in that it doesn't give the audience the feel that the goings on in the movie take place on the plane. This actually looks cheap and so slapstick despite its entertainment value.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: October 12, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Movie No. 172 (2013): SIN NOMBRE

Sin Nombre (2009)
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Cast: Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan
In Spanish, with English subtitles

The film tells the tragic story of two teenagers who meet by chance while in transit to illegally immigrate to US from North America. Sayra is a teenager from Honduras who's just been reunited with his father, who will take her to his new family in New Jersey. On their way to immigrate to US, they will chance upon Willy, a teenager from Tapacula, Mexico, who's in trouble with a notorious gang. Together, they plan to cross the border, but members of the notorious gang won't stop until they get Willy, dead or alive.

It's part gangster movie. It's part adventure. It's part road movie. But, in every inch, it's a tragedy. The semi-documentary feel of the movie makes it insightful and worth-watching.

Rating" 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 5, 2013

Movie No. 171 (2013): HEARTBREAKER

Heartbreaker (2010)
Director: Pascal Chaumeil
Cast: Romain Duris, Vanessa Paradis, Andrew Lincoln
In French, with English subtitles

This is romantic comedy, and it's a real fun seeing it. This is one of the few movies of this genre that I really enjoyed. Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead is here.

The movie is about a rugged happy-go-lucky who earns a living by breaking up relationships. He claims that he breaks couple not anybody's heart, so he only gets himself involved in cases where the girl is unhappy. His method: seduction. The conflict comes when, in one major assignment, it's his heart that's threatened to be broken. Call it occupational hazard. But, will he allow it? This is where the movie gets funny and tricky. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: October 5, 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Movie No. 170 (2013): CATERPILLAR

Caterpillar (2010)
Director: Koji Wakamatsu
Cast: Shenobu Terajima, Keigo Kasuya, Emi Masuda
In Japanese, with English subtitles

This is the story of a Japanese soldier and his wife, set during the Sino-Japanese War in 1940. The soldier left their village to defend the country. He returned as an honored and well-decorated soldier, but without limbs. The village puts a pressure on the wife to take care of the her husband, the soldier, as a duty to honor the Emperor and the country.

The film is creepy. A lot of scenes made me uncomfortable watching. I can sense that the film is a direct attack on nationalism (and fascism) the Japanese are known for, specially during war. This film shows the soldier as a vulnerable human being, not as war hero. The photography effectively  captures the 'coldness' of the two major characters in the film.

The film is generally good. But I will not see it again. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: September 22, 2013


Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap? (2013)
Director: Jose Javier Reyes
Cast: Rustica Carpio, Ryan Agoncillo, Jackie Lou Blanco, Bobby Andrews
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

This film reminded me of the passing pain and sadness that I felt while I was watching Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. That film and this film are so straightforward in depicting how people, when they're old, become disposable.

In this film, three siblings face a dilemma after their mother died. Since all of them live abroad,  they will have to dispose of all the properties they inherited from their mother, including their nanny, Teresa, now an octagenarian. Teresa was their mother's nanny and confidante. She was also the siblings' nanny when they were kids. They inherited the nanny from their (now dead) mother. But the nanny believes that one of the siblings will take her abroad. After all, Teresa had always been regarded as family member.

This is one of the most heartbreaking films I've seen so far. It's heartbreaking without the melodrama. Rustica Carpio's Teresa is easily one of the best portrayals I've seen on screen. I saw characters who really did care but couldn't compromise. At some point, I was quite convinced that the movie was really about the conflicts between the siblings, and Teresa just so happened to be caught in the middle of it. And she would be the only casualty of the conflict.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: September 13, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Movie No. 168 (2013): EVEN THE RAIN

Even The Rain (2011)
Director: Iciar Bollain
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal, Juan Carlos Aduviri, Luis Tosar
In Spanish, with English subtitles

A film crew led by the idealistic director (Gael Garcia Bernal) and the opportunistic producer come to Bolivia to make a film about Columbus' conquest of the New World 500 years ago. The film is supposedly aimed to denounce exploitation. Ironically, however, the production team appear to be exploiting the native Indians of Bolivia that they've hired as bit players. The film gets interesting when, during shooting breaks, the bit players, led by Daniel, a native Indian, who has a very important role in the movie, join protests over the privatization of the region's water supply. This will lead to bloody clash between the protesters and the police. Daniel gets jailed. Many bit players get hurt. The production is stalled.

This layered film is a kind we call "a film within a film." The best thing about the film is in how it shows the parallelism of the Columbus' conquest in search of gold using the spreading Christianity as excuse, which is  the subject of the film being filmed in the film, and the unconscious exploitation of the hired bit players by the film crew, and the protests of the (modern) native Indians in La Paz, Bolivia, over the privatization of the region's water supply by capitalists from Los Angeles and London.

All the characters are so interesting that you can empathize with their actions. Gael Garcia Bernal's character, however, appears inconsistent in his actions and decisions. However, I look at it as the real character of that character - being inconsistent under pressure.

One of the best films I've seen in years!

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 11, 2013

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Movie No. 167 (2013): THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA

The Ballad of Narayama (1983)
Director: Shohei Imamura
Cast: Sumiko Sakamoto, Ken Ogata
In Japanese, with English subtitles
Winner, Palm D'Or Cannes Film Festival 1983

The movie is an examination of the rituals and customs of a remote fictional village in Northern Japan. There's the ritual sex. There's the custom of practically "dumping" old people in the summit of a mountain (Narayama) once they reach 70 to die, as a form of sacrifice to the deities believed to live in the summit.

The movie, with its gore, violence, and people in inhuman conditions, is not for the faint-heart. There are two things that will linger on my mind for some time: the bleak cinematography and the last minutes leading to the movie's conclusion, which is the ascent, which is simply heartbreaking. The snow in the end left me cold.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 8, 2013

The Old Lady Is A Bitch

I knew that the old lady could see from the outside that people on the rush were already standing on the aisle of the bus. But, she still insisted to get in. While the bus was stuck in the non-moving traffic, the old lady knocked heavily on the door. Or, was she thumping her palm on the door? Looked like she was pleading that she be let in.

Second thought: it didn't look like she was pleading. 

She was yelling. We couldn't hear her but it looked like she was commanding the bus driver to open the door and let her in. The poor driver was hesitant at first. The bus couldn't accommodate another person, unless the driver would give up his seat. But, maybe considering that she was old, he yielded; he opened the door and let her in. She squeezed herself through the warm bodies that were practically packed inside the bus. And then, most of us inside the bus couldn't believe what we witnessed next. This old lady yelled (again), now addressing her ire to the bus conductor: "There should be seats reserved for senior citizens!" The bus conductor, in utter confusion, quizzically replied: "They're occupied!" He then went on with his business of ticketing and collecting fares. We didn't expect the bitchy old lady's arrogant reply: "By these people? They don't look like crippled or old."

I was one of "these people" who didn't look old or crippled. Thank you! The haughty bitch had a good sense of ill humor. I felt blood rush to my face. I had to attenuate the impending embarrassment and being offended (on my face) with a dry smile that, I thought, no one noticed.

It was not play time for the bitch. Her last utterance was pure sarcasm, a display of imposed superiority. If I had a gun, I would have shot her point blank. If I were Carrie, I would have made her heart stop beating. Yes, I mean Stephen King's Carrie. Let's get local: If I were Lastikman, I would have strangled her or wring her neck, and toss her out of the bus. I would have emptied a bottle of 36 M sulfuric acid into her throat. I was really having evil thoughts with all these brooding.

I really got irritated. I could sense that I was not alone. I could see from other people's silent reactions that they couldn't believe what they were seeing and hearing I overheard someone silently uttered: "Some old people don't deserve respect. When she came in she knew there was no room for her."  Susurrus filled the claustrophobic air-space inside. There were faint giggling.

A student who got intimidated gave up his seat for her. I protested in silence. To suppress (my) belligerence, I plugged the handset of my music player to my ears and pretended to fall into (instant) sleep. In isolation, I could only hear Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt singing "Boxing and Pop Music."

At half-past eight in the morning. September 7, 2013

To be continued....


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Director: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt

The film is a morality play with a heavy theme: greed. However, it's presented in a light, sometimes funny, manner, resulting in a movie that's very entertaining and memorable. The transformation of Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart) from an ambitious drifter to a personification of paranoia is excellently executed. The irony in the conclusion is something that I can't move on from. Simply classic. The film's black-and-white cinematography captures the rustic milieu and treacherousness of the Sierra Madre, thus an integral part of the film's greatness.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 8, 2014

Friday, September 6, 2013

Movie No. 165 (2013): SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
Director: Chan-wook Park
Cast: Ha-Kyun Shin, Kang-Ho Song

In this movie, good people (are forced to) do bad things, all in the name of vengeance. One exacts vengeance, another gets hurt; the one who gets hurt will retaliate, and it goes on in a cycle. In the end, no one wins. That's always been since time immemorial. This is the clear message.

It starts with a selfless desire: a deaf-mute wants a kidney transplant for her very sick sister. He can't donate his kidney because his blood type is different from his sister's. There's no available donor at the moment, and his sister is dying of pain. He gets laid off from his job. He gets to the black market that trades organs for cash and his own kidney. He gets ripped. He exacts revenge. He kidnaps his Boss's daughter for ransom. Something goes wrong. The Boss takes the matter in his own hands, with the aid of a sympathetic cop. And so on...

This is Chan-wook Park directing. Gore, graphic violence to a certain level, and shock factor are expected. But there's more to it than these. The movie itself is well-crafted (on the basis of film grammar) despite its being grim and bleak. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: September 4, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Movie No. 164 (2013): I SAW THE DEVIL

I Saw The Devil (2010)
Director: Ji-Woon Kim
Cast: Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi
In Korean, with English subtitles

The film's story is "ugly." The film, however, is not bad. In fact (in my opinion) the film is among the best in its genre. It follows the disturbing "cat-and-mouse game" between a serial killer and a secret agent after the secret agent's fiancee, the daughter of a retired high-ranking police officer, fell prey to the murderous hands of the killer. In this film, the line between good and evil blurs. The hunter becomes the hunted; the hunted becomes the hunter. Even the idea of revenge is not clear. 

Despite the gut-wrenching acts of violence and gore shown in a lot of scenes, the film still manages to be decent. The script is something to be respected. The editing, particularly in the later part, is unforgettable. The conclusion is stunning.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 2, 2013

Monday, September 2, 2013

Movie No. 163 (2013): ONCE

Once (2006)
Director: John Carney
Cast: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova

The film tells the eventful week of writing, rehearsing, and recording songs after a busker (the guy) and a flower girl (an immigrant from Czech Republic) accidentally bumped into each other in one of the busy streets of Dublin. That vacuum cleaner! We learn about the separate love stories of the guy and the girl from the songs they've written and recorded. The question that hangs is: did they fall in love with each other? The answer doesn't matter. That's the good thing about this film. It doesn't spoon-feed. It's for the audience to decide on the basis of what the see and hear.

Falling Slowly. What a song! For me, this ranks among the best movie themes ever written. It's winning the Academy Awards for Best Original Song was just a bonus. Part of the success of the movie was this song. Of course, the script was well-written.

By the way, the current Tony Award-winning Broadway musical based  on this movie is a good as the movie version. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 1, 2013

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Movie No. 162 (2013): IT TAKES A MAN AND A WOMAN

It Takes A Man And A Woman (2013)
Director: Cathy Garcia-Molina
Cast: John Lloyd Cruz, Sarah Geronimo, Rowell Santiago, Irma Adlawan, Al Tantay, Joross Gambo, Matet De Leon, Gio Alvarez

This is the third movie that follows the love-and-hate relationship of Miggy and Laida. I hope this is the last. I like John Lloyd Cruz because he's one of the few actors in the local show business who can really act. His studio doesn't fully utilize his thespian capabilities. Instead, he's stuck in these kind of movies that are meant to tickle the hopeless romantic mass. Well, his movies still shatter box office records. That's understandable. 

Every movie with John Lloyd Cruz in the cast is a guilty pleasure for me. This movie, though not as bad as other commercial movies, is still likable in some aspect. But I didn't enjoy it. The story is like a rehash of several movies I've seen before. 

Please, let this be the last movie in this series.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: August 26, 2013

Movie No. 161 (2013): SIDE EFFECTS

Side Effects (2013)
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Cast: Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Channing Tatum

Here's the basic plot of the movie. The lives of a couple (Emily and Martin) get disturbingly affected by the side effects of the drug prescribed to treat Emily's anxiety. The movie gets interesting when one of the side effects is a murder.

Steven Soderbergh presents a film that has certain level of Hitchcockian wicked twist. This is a kind of movie in which things are not necessarily what they seem. In my opinion, the success of this movie can be attributed partly to convincing performances of Jude Law, Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 25, 2013

Monday, August 26, 2013

Movie No. 160 (2013): LOLA

Lola (2009)
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Cast: Anita Linda, Rustica Carpio, Tanya Gomez, Ketchup Eusebio, Jhong Hilario
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

The film's premise is so worthy of neorealism, if there's still such a thing now. As a result of a crime involving their grandsons, two grandmothers, both from families living below poverty line, must raise money. One of them must raise money for the burial of her grandson. The other must raise it to bail out her grandson from jail. All these occur in the midst of a storm.

It's so tempting to resort to heavy melodrama from this premise. But the director opted not to. After all, this is an independent film. Instead, the respective predicaments of the two grandmothers are silently presented on screen to show the lives of a sector in the present-day Manila. Brillante Mendoza is a master of this semi-documentary approach to narrative in his films.

The two lead actresses (Rustica Carpio and Anita Linda) deservedly tied for Best Actress at Urian Awards in 2010.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 21, 2013

Movie No. 159 (2013): OBLIVION

Oblivion (2013)
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Cast: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman

Synopsis, from IMDB: A veteran assigned to extract Earth's remaining resources begins to question what he knows about his mission and himself.

It looks like the gist of the movie is simplified in the synopsis, as generally is the trend. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, the premise is interesting. In good hands, the\at premise may be materialized into a film that will be remembered in the years to come. But, with I saw, I'd rather preserve the film in the realm of oblivion (no pun intended). The film gets more interested in showcasing special effects and (digitalized) art direction. Even Tom Cruise's performance is irritating.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: August 21, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Movie No. 158 (2013): AIR DOLL

Air Doll (2009)
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Bae Doo Na, Itsuji Itao, Jo Odagiri, Arata

The titular character in this film is an inflatable air doll that is used by a middle-aged man to ward off his loneliness. One day, the air doll inexplicably becomes human, complete flesh, heart, and, probably, soul. She then learns the ways of humans, finds a job, falls in love, and finally seeks out her creator, all under the nose of the middle-aged man.

The movie is to be treated as fantasy, like a fairy tale with a sad ending; this way it works. But, it's quite obvious that the movie is intended to be an art film, and, in this aspect, it falls under the trap of pretense, although forgivable.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 21, 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Movie No. 157 (2013): STILL WALKING

Still Walking (2008)
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yoshio Harada, Yui Natsukawa
In Japanese, with English subtitles

This movie appears to me like a collaboration of two cinema greats: Bergman and Ozu. I guess, this is the greatest complement I can shower the movie with. This is simply a masterpiece of world cinema.

There is nothing fancy about the basic story line as we only witness the unfolding of a day in the life of the Yokoyama family as they reunite to commemorate the 15th death anniversary of the eldest son. Here we see real people as they deal with each other, like in any other ordinary family. It's so interesting that ironically resentment partly binds them through the years. Pretension and some white lies save someone from being hurt. But above all these, it's quite obvious that it's the love for the family that seals their bond. Hirokau Kore-eda has masterfully captured all these in Still Walking.

Two thumbs up, way up!

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 21, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013


A Woman Under The Influence (1974)
Director: John Cassavetes
Cast: Gena Rowlands, Peter Falk

Okay, I get it. In the film are a mismatched couple: the husband is a construction worker, the wife full time mother; he's controlling, she's outgoing but emotionally weak. In the film's highlight, the wife has a nervous breakdown, which is effectively captured on camera. Speaking of camera, what's this I observed while watching the film? I mean the extended shots focused on characters doing their things particularly during crucial moments. That (kind of) worked, in my opinion, if it's meant to convey to the audience what's on the character's mind. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 20, 2013

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Movie No. 155 (2013): INSIDIOUS

Insidious (2011)
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey

A couple, with their three young children, have just moved in into a rented house. One of the sons accidentally falls. Inflicted with just minor bruises, he falls into a deep coma. The wife feels that there are otherworldly forces in the house; she sees demonic, physical manifestations of such forces. She convinces her husband to leave the 'haunted' house for a new one. They move to a new house. But these forces follow them. It seems that it's not the house that's haunted. Interesting premise.

And the movie gives a real scare. In this department, the movie is successful. But in the middle of the film, there's a lull such that you might be forgetting you're watching a horror film. The final scenes are really creepy.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 20, 2013

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Movie No. 154 (2013): APARISYON

Aparisyon (2012)
Director: Vincent Sandoval
Cast: Jodi Sta. Maria, Mylene Dizon, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, Raquel Villavicencio

I still can't figure out why this film is called Aparisyon (Apparition). But despite that, the film is a powerful indictment of silent protest. Yes, the Adoration Monastery where nuns' way of living is anchored on silence and prayers is an effective metaphor. The movie is set during the days leading to declaration of Martial Law by Ferdinand Marcos. 

Aparisyon is a very silent film and the presenting of silence, which can be frightening at times, is the major point of the film. The film shows how the nuns react to an act of violence that's committed to one of their own. And the film doesn't explain much.

This film was in competition in Cinemalaya 2012.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 19, 2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

Movie No. 153 (2013): MARGIN CALL

Margin Call (2011)
Director: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci

The key players of an investment firm have to make crucial decisions during within a 24-hour period during one of those days nearing the 2008 financial crisis in America. This is the plot of the movie. And it looks talky and boring, like a possible extravaganza of triteness.

But, the movie is far from being boring. Special effects-riddled movies can be boring but this one is not. It's really an accomplishment for a movie with this story line to be crossing the boundary of a genre. This movie ends up being like a mystery-thriller. That's right, you don't always need exaggerated special effects, or spine-tingling musical score, or eardrum-shattering sound effects to create an atmosphere of mystery in movies. Good story-telling technique, with excellent script, almost always does the trick. The excellent ensemble acting contributes significantly to the movie's greatness.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 19, 2013

Movie No. 152 (2013): LAWLESS

Lawless (2012)
Director: John Hilcoat
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman

The film is based from the true story of bootlegging brothers who illegally produce and distribute alcohol during the Depression Era. The conflict: other gang groups and the new deputy want cut from their profit.

The cinematography and costume design successfully give the film the 1930's look and feel. It could have been an epic, but some things make it fall short from being one. Maybe it's the script. Maybe it's the underwhelming score. Maybe it's the casting. Despite these, the film saves itself from being a disaster. Thanks to some established names in the cast - Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce, and Jessica Chastain. They all do well. And the film still succeeds in being a good piece of entertainment. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 18, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Movie No. 151 (2013): ANIMAL KINGDOM

Animal Kingdom (2010)
Director: David Michod
Cast: James Frecheville, Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn

The basic story is familiar. A teenager (Josh Cody or J) suddenly finds himself alone; his mother has just died of heroin overdose. His grandmother comes to the rescue. He's taken into her 'lair.' He's now in a household whose 'inhabitants' are his uncles who are involved in different illegal trades. In fact, the whole family is a mid-level crime syndicate that operates in Melbourne. And her grandmother is a party in these activities. Jacki Weaver, playing the grandmother, gives a stunning performance as a demonic and scheming mother to J's uncles.

The film is dark. The mood it creates is menacing. I'm quite surprised of the effective use of Air Supply's All Out of Love as background music in one important scene. David Michod, as a first-time director, does things that makes this film extraordinary despite the familiar premise or storyline. The film is made stylish without sacrificing content. Performances are noteworthy, with special mention to Jacki Weaver who earned an Academy Award nomination for her work here.

This is one of the truly outstanding films I've seen in years. Some say it's Australia's Goodfellas; they have a point.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 18, 2013