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