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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Movie No. 150 (2013): THE CONJURING

The Conjuring (2013)
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingson

I'm not easily get spooked while being hooked on scenes in horror films that are meant to scare or make one jump from his seat. Despite this I still like horror films and try to see one when I feel like seeing one. During the past years however, I intentionally avoid such films because practically all horror films shown, local and international, were either bad or mediocre, with stupid premises. 

Since the past few days, people have been talking about The Conjuring. General feedback were positive. Some acquaintances and close friends would recommend it. So, I gave it a chance, all for curiosity. I saw it last night. I did not expect anything. I didn't expect that it could top my favorite horror films (The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, Let The Right One In, Jaws, Don't Look Now, The Others, The Ring, Ju-On, The Devil's Backbone, and The Orphanage). 

Well, The Conjuring didn't disappoint. Actually, it's good, but it fell short in a few aspects to make my list. There are so many good things about film: the superb acting ensemble from established actors, which is rare in mostly cheap horror films; the presenting of narrative in two different points of view; the tasteful blending of photography, editing, and sound effects that excellently create atmosphere of spookiness and suspense. 

The film does not attempt to explain the genesis of the demonic presence in the house; this decision is not a bad thing . In fact, it contributes to the mystery. The slow buildup of intrigue and mystery (unexplained bruises to sleepwalking to violent attack of demonic presence) is something that's noteworthy. The film certainly lives up to what's expected from a horror film. But this is different; and it's not just one of those cheap horror flicks.

My only comment is that the pre-credit scenes are immaterial and not contributory to the narrative.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 16, 2013

Monday, August 12, 2013

Movie No. 149 (2013): THE GOODBYE GIRL

The Goodbye Girl (1977)
Director: Herbert Ross
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason

Richard Dreyfuss, in his Academy Award-winning performance, plays a neurotic theater actor, Elliot Garfield, who sublets a New York apartment from a friend (Tony). The problem is that the apartment still has occupants: Tony's ex-girlfriend who doesn't know she has just been dumped, and her young daughter.

The film is a bittersweet romantic comedy that is easy-watching and enjoyable. Seeing it feels like seeing a Woody Allen movie, and that's not a bad thing to say.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 12, 2013

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Movie No. 148 (2013): BROTHER 2 (Brat 2)

Brat 2 (2000)
Director: Aleksei Balabanov
Cast: Sergey Bodrov Jr.

Danila comes to America, not to live the American dream, but to avenge the murder of his "comrade."  This movie is a sequel of the 1997 film. This film occurs a year after the events of the first film.  The movie is the answer to Hollywood's portrayal of Russians as the evil ones in most of its film. As such, the film appears like a racist. In my opinion, it's not.

Are you gangsters?
No, we're Russians.

This simple dialogue reverberates and practically summarizes the message that the film is trying to slap into American (or any) audience. But the movie is is never a propagandist piece. It's simply a film that deserves an audience.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 11, 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Movie No. 147. Cinemalaya 2013: DAVID F.

David F. (2013)
Director: Emmanuel Palo
Cast: Eula Valdez, Sid Lucero, Mitch Valdez, Will Devaughn, Art Acuna, Quester Hannah, Rocky Salumbides
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Filipinos, in general, are so touchy especially when a foreigner says something not good about our country and our people. But, without them noticing, they, too are discriminatory and racist. This is clearly depicted in this film.

David F. weaves three stories, of different periods in Philippines' history of its people: from the Fil-Am war to the present-day Clark Airfield. In all these episodes, the film suggests different levels of discrimination that African-Americans (soldiers to Amerasians of black lineage) experience from Filipinos. 

This film is a slap to every Filipino bigot's face.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 3, 2013

Movie No. 146. Cinemalaya 2013: THE DIPLOMAT HOTEL

The Diplomat Hotel (2013)
Director: Christopher Ad Castillo
Cast: Gretchen Barretto, Art Acuna, Mon Confiado, Joel Torre

In the opening scene Veronica Lansang, a popular news reporter, is shown mediating a hostage crisis. Then something goes wrong that will make her flip and end up in a mental institution. Years later, she's shown trying to come back to television, reluctantly accepting a an assignment that will require her to stay overnight in an infamous ruins of a hotel, the Diplomat Hotel, which has the reputation of being haunted.

This is supposed to be a horror film. Yes, there are put-on scenes, with the required eerie audio, that are meant to scare. I found the entire film not scary but ridiculously irritating. The first few minutes was okay, but it's downhill from there. There was never a moment that Gretchen appeared like a real news reporter. Art Acuna was irritating because he couldn't get into his character. Mon Confiado even bragged about losing pounds because his character required it. Seriously, I didn't see the need for it.

Everything in this film seems bad. The screenplay is horrible. I don't know how it got past through the screening committee and gambled on it. The cinematography is amateurish.

Rating: 0.5/4.0

Date seen: August 3, 2013

Movie No. 145. Cinemalaya 2013: TRANSIT

Transit (2013)
Director: Hannah Espia
Cast: Irma Adlawan, Ping Medina, Marc Justine Jimenez, Mercedes Cabral, Jasmine Curtis-Smith
In Tagalog and Hebrew, with English subtitles

Synopsis: The film begins and ends in an airport during a father and son's transit from Tel Aviv to Manila.

This film is easily one of the crowd favorites in this year's Cinemalaya independent film festival. I like it, too, despite (some of) its flaws and a few failed ambitions. In this film we see (representative) overseas Filipino workers in Tel Aviv hurdling between their jobs as caregivers or house-helps and hiding their undocumented (so-called invisible) children from police authorities. Israel has just passed a law to deport children of foreign workers below five years old. 

The best thing about the movie: all actors are competent, particularly Irma Adlawan and Ping Medina. Mercedes Cabral has a short role (an unnecessary character) but she delivers. Marc Justine Jimenez is a scene stealer. Jasmine Curtis-Smith is a revelation despite her almost "non-acting" type of acting, if there's such a thing. Then there's the technically excellent cinematography. Finally, the editing. The presentation of vignettes or telling the story in chapters is well-edited. This technique is not new but, when used appropriately, can enhance the story telling.

One minor issue: there's no plot. Maybe, if there is, I didn't notice it. A movie without a plot doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad movie. In this movie, in my opinion, plot is needed. But it doesn't matter. The movie has been presented in a way that will connect to the audience. I still like it. In fact, it's one of the best films in this year's batch.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 1, 2013

Movie No. 144. Cinemalaya 2013: LIARS

Liars (2013)
Director: Gil Portes
Cast: Alessandra Da Rossi, Arnold Reyes, Cris Villanueva, Sue Prado, Ping Medina, Richard Quan, John Michael Bunapos, Jan Harley Hicana, Jim Rocky Tangco
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Inspired by a true story, the film tells the story of an ambitious journalist, played by Alessandra Da Rossi, who exposes the 'lies' of a local boys' baseball team that has just won championship in an international match.

It looks like Gil Portes is good at handling stories featuring children and showcasing hope. Recall Mumunting Tinig. But this particular film, in addition, examines the consequences of telling the truth. The film's script is not perfect, but passable. The ensemble cast, including the amateur actors, really delivered, especially Alessandra Da Rossi.

The message that I got from this movie: Telling the truth will not always set you free.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: July 31, 2013

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Movie No. 143. Cinemalaya 2013: SANA DATI

Sana Dati (2013)
Director: Jerrold Tarog
Cast: Lovi Poe, Paulo Avelino, TJ Trinidad, Benjamin Alves

Synopsis: The film is a love story about a woman whose wedding is thrown into disarray when a mysterious man arrives and reminds her of the man she really loves.

Read again the synopsis. The way it's written can suggest that the movie is just one of those romance movies that are force-fed to the hopeless romantic movie fans by local major productions. But this movie is far from being "one of those." 

Sana Dati is almost perfect as a movie. The flawed characters that populate the screen doing their flawed routines are effectively acted by the actors, particularly Lovi Poe's disappearing in the brokenness of her character. Paulo Avelino shows his range as an actor. TJ Trinidad is superb; I could feel his character. And these were all captured in near-perfect photography. The editing of the non-linear narrative is something to note. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 30, 2013

Movie No. 142. Cinemalaya 2013: NUWEBE

Nuwebe (2013)
Director: Joseph Israel Laban
Cast: Jake Cuenca, Nadine Samonte, Barbara Miguel

The film is inspired by the actual story of a nine-year-old girl, who, at 9, is one of the youngest mothers in the Philippines. The girl got pregnant from the sexual abuses of her father, played by Jake Cuenca.

The film is a mix of the usual narrative and documentary styles of telling a story in movies. The director used the 'ant hill' as symbolic representation for the sexual advances of the father to his daughter. For me this move or decision is somewhat cowardly but I understand the concerns of the director about showing scenes suggestive of the incestuous rape.

The topic of film is very controversial. That's just it. I think the film just rides on the touchiness of the topic. I can't even feel it as a character study. Or maybe, it's merely presented as an almost-documentary. The ironies presented are almost a cliche.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: July 29, 2013

Movie No. 141. Cinemalaya 2013: DEBOSYON

Debosyon (2013)
Director: Alvin Yapan
Cast: Paulo Avelino, Mara Lopez

Synopsis: Mando, a Bicolano devotee of Ina, Virgin of Penafrancia, injures himself in the middle of the forest. A mysterious woman, Salome, found and nursed him back to help. They soon fell in love. But when Mando invites her to come with him to the plains, Salome refuses. She holds a secret that will devastate Mando's love for her.

The synopsis is easier to understand than what the film was trying to tell or show to the audience. The incongruity of scenes after scenes is quite annoying. Paulo Avelino, in my opinion, is miscast for the role. Mara Lopez as the 'mysterious woman' is so irritating in a way that she never looked mysterious at all. The movie itself failed to make the character of Salome mysterious. The balls of fire chasing Mando in one scene was so forced. The secret mentioned in the synopsis, when finally revealed, was ridiculous.  This is easily the worst film in this year's batch of Cinemalaya films.

Rating: 0.5/4.0

Date seen: January 29, 2013

Friday, August 2, 2013

Movie No. 140. Cinemalaya 2013: PUROK 7

Purok 7 (2013)
Director: Carlo Obispo
Cast: Khrystle Valentino, Miggs Cuaderno, Arnold Reyes, Angeli Bayani, Julian Trono

Synopsis: The film follows Diana and her younger brother as they strive to relieve their longing for a family.

Let me say that this is one of the best films in this year's batch of Cinemalaya films. In fact, one of the best that came out Cinemalaya.

In most scenes, I actually cried or, at least cried. There were some other moments where I tried to hold back tears. Why? The film reminds me of Grave of The Fireflies, one of my favorite films of all time. Both Grave and Purok 7 follow the lives of two siblings as they try to survive everyday while longing for a family despite odds. I have to make it a point that Purok 7 does not deliberately plant scenes to give the audience some cues to cry. In my case, I cried because I could feel the loneliness and longing of the siblings. That means effective effective script and direction.

The film also effective portrays innocence. The film is so humane in portraying Diana as an adolescent girl who is experiencing 'puppy love' despite the dire circumstance she and her younger brother face. The film is a rare gem!

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 29, 2013

Movie No. 139. Cinemalaya 2013: EKSTRA (The Bit Player)

Ekstra (The Bit Player) (2013)
Director: Jeffrey Jeturian
Cast: Vilma Santos, Marlon Rivera, Ruby Ruiz

Synopsis: A social-realist drama-comedy film, Ekstra follows a seemingly usual day in the life of Loida Malabanan as she embarks on yet another shooting day of a soap opera as an extra.

Okay, the film is very entertaining. It's almost non-indie (i.e., commercial film). Vilma Santos (as Loida Malabanan) was good in most scenes. In a few scenes, however, I was not convinced she's a bit player. Blame it to her big name. She's just too big a star and that's the major problem. She even acted like Vilma Santos in some crucial scenes. 

This is the main flaw in my opinion: the film projects an almost ideal relationship among all the bit players and a villainish image of the production crew.

This is not a bad film. In fact, I enjoyed it.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: July 28, 2013

Movie No. 138. Cinemalaya 2013: REKORDER

Rekorder (2013)
Director: Mikhail Red
Cast: Ronnie Quizon, Mike Lloren, Buboy Villar
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Synopsis: The film tells the story of a former 1980s film cameraman who now currently works as a movie pirate operating in present day Manila. He routinely smuggles a digital camera into movie theaters in order to illegally record films. One night he records something else. And the footage goes viral.

One needs patience to appreciate this film. I almost lost mine; I almost walked out. It could be sleep-inducing. However, the curiosity in me made me wide awake, hoping everything would make sense in the end. I was glad I stayed until the end. Indeed, it all made sense in the end.

Some plus points for this film are the message it tries to relay to the audience and the effective portrayal of Ronnie Quizon as the lead character. I could feel his "distance." The final scenes would make you understand why his character would act like that.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: July 28, 2013

Movie No. 137. Cinemalaya 2013: QUICK CHANGE

Quick Change (2013)
Director: Eduardo Roy Jr.
Cast: Mimi Juareza, Junjun Quintana, Miggs Cuaderno

Quick Change tells the life or Dorina Pineda, a transvestite who is looking for his niche in the society while engaging into the underworld of 'quick change' operations and vanities that cater to beauty-conscious perpetual contestants in gay pageants. He dreams of living a normal life with his live-in partner and a lovable nephew under his care. We witness Dorina as he endures sufferings, gathers hope, and faces acceptance in what seems to him a cruel world.

When I entered the theater, I didn't expect much from this film. One reason could be that, based on the still for this film displayed at the lobby of CCP, showing some transvestites varied pictures of busyness, I had prejudged the film as nothing different from the cheap gay films that disguise as indie films. That there were no name-actors in the cast was also my other reason to not expect too much from this film. But I was wrong! This films, in my opiinion, is one of the better films of this year's edition of Cinemalaya. The actor who played Dorina did well. The child actor who played Dorina's lovable nephew was a scene-stealer, and he was good, too. The film is unsentimental, matter-of-factly.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: July 28, 2013