Saturday, April 26, 2014

Movie No. 41 (2014): TRANSCENDENCE

Transcendence (2014)
Director: Wally Pfister
Cast: Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany

In the movie, Transcendence is a machine with collective intelligence that is being created by a group of artificial intelligence (AI) scientists led by Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp). Another group, the anti-AI extremist is against the project and will do anything to stop it. Along the way, Dr. Caster dies; his wife uploaded Dr. Caster's consciousness on the machine, and some incredible consequences occur.

The first half of the movie is almost a snooze-fest. Some consequences of in the second half of the movie are hard to believe even in a science fiction or fantasy movie. For example, the effect of the machine is supposedly worldwide and the FBI is so concerned about it. But you don't feel this pandemonium in the way the way the movie is written or, maybe, in the way the script is interpreted on screen. Another thing that's off is the movies being too preachy and cheap and failed allusion to the coming of the Messiah. The writing is all over the place.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: April 19, 2014

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Movie No. 40 (2014): BLACK BREAD

Pa Negre (Black Bread) (2010)
Director: Agusti Villaronga
Cast: Francesc Colomer, Marina Comas, Nora Navas, Roger Casamajor
In Spanish (Catalan), with English subtitles

The setting of the is post-war Catalonia. The major protagonist is Andreu whose family is in the losing side. At the start of the film he is shown to have stumbled upon the corpses of a man and a young boy his age down the cliff. He immediately reports it to the relatives of the dead and to local authorities. The local authorities suspects that Andreu's father might be responsible for the alleged murder. To help clear his father's name, Andreu (secretly) helps find the real killer; in the process he will come of age, as his moral consciousness will be challenged in the midst of secrets and lies.

The film is great as practically all the elements of a good film are in it: clever script and well-executed direction, a cinematography that gives the atmosphere of that period, great performances, and a shocking conclusion that actually just makes sense.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 18, 2014

Movie No. 39 (2014): THE THIRD MAN

The Third Man (1949)
Director: Carol Reed
Cast: Jospeh Cotten, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Alida Valli

I first saw this film on VHS tape in 1998. The copy, despite being original, was not as clear as the Criterion's DVD transfer of the movie. I still keep the tape. I remember liking the movie that time. The second time I saw the film (Criterion edition) was two days ago. Now, I appreciate the film even more. Without much reservation, I can now declare The Third Man one of the greatest films ever made. This, of course, is just my opinion.

There are so many aspects to like about the film. The film does not attempt to comment or be political  about the present situation of the post-war Vienna, which is the setting of the movie. Graham Greene's script focused on the mystery-melodrama. It's very seldom that a melodrama is not so contrived that it actually results in a masterpiece. Yes, I'm a sucker for black-and-white cinematography, particularly when the film is partly or wholly of the mystery genre. In this film, the cinematography excellently enhanced the intrigue, suspense, and even the emotions of the characters. The playful yet eerie music, like a lurker, sounds (or appears) like one of the important characters, which is rare in a movie. And, of course, the cast played their respective parts well. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 18, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Movie No. 38 (2014): PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA

Ponyo On The Cliff By The Sea (2008)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
In Japanese, with English subtitles

Studio Ghibli presents the story of a five-year-old boy (Sozuke) who finds a goldfish on the shore by the cliff and adopts it. He names the fish Ponyo, who, he doesn't know, is a princess in the sea. And this princess longs to be human; her father objects.

The old-school, hand-drawn, colorful animation is typical of Studio Ghibli's or Hayao Miyazaki's. What I appreciate most in this movie are the images that I supposed to be a child's point of view (Sozuke's) (for example, the fish-shaped tsunami waves) and the symbolic actions (for example, Ponyo's father squeezing her to become baby again). There's more of such images. There's a scene that visually comments on ocean pollution; another on how the young treat the old; and a lot of scenes that suggest celebration of love, like love for the family, father's love for a child, and children's innocent love and affection.

This is a film that children and the 'child in every adult' will truly enjoy.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 16, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Movie No. 37 (2014): CAESAR MUST DIE

Caesar Must Die (2012)
Director: Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
Cast: Cosimo Rega, Salvatore Striano, Giovanni Arcuri

The events in the film takes in a maximum-security prison. The inmates are staging a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. The film, while having the elements of a documentary, is truly fiction that accounts for the pre-production (including auditions), rehearsals, and finally, the staging of the play. All these occur within the confines of the walls of the prison, and one can't (even for while) neglect that these things are happening in the prison. It's so artful how the screenplay merges the dialogues distilled from the play and those that are of the inmates' own. Sometimes, it gets confusing whether the inmates are talking their parts in the play or speaking their own minds. Well, it must be that they've become the characters their assigned to play. 

This film won Best Film (Golden Bear) at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 16, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Movie No. 36 (2014): A HIJACKING

A Hijacking (2012)
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Cast: Johan Philip Asbaek, Soren Malling, Roland Moller
In Danish, with English subtitles

A 7-man Danish cargo shop, sailing in the Indian Ocean on its way home, is hijacked  by Somalian pirates. Fast forward: the inevitable negotiation for the release of the crew in exchange of millions of US dollars sets in, which will last for four months. I will not go into the detail. But, I have to say that this film, despite the 'under siege' or hostage-taking does not dwell into the familiar high-octane rescue operations. It, instead, explored the psychological aspects of the bargaining to save the lives of the crew and the fleet CEO's reluctance to shell out ransom money. This results in even more tense scenarios. 

Just thinking, this can be a good material for a play.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 16, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Movie No. 35 (2014): WINTER'S TALE

Winter's Tale (2014)
Director: Akiva Goldsman
Cast: Colin Farrell, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connely, William Hurt, Will Smith, Eva Marie Saint, Jessica Brown Findlay

I just learned that the movie is an adaptation of Mark Helprin's book. I didn't read the book so I'm not complaining about the way it's adapted. Overall, the movie is easy to like, if only for entertainment. The visuals, though not superbly stunning, are decent. And then the romance and fantasy ingredients are almost those of fairy tales'. But then, the narrative is all over the place. Like a fluid flow that's choked at some point or short circuited. Even the superb line of talents in cast doesn't quite save the movie from being a mild disaster.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: April 16, 2014

Movie No. 34 (2014): TWO LIVES

Two Lives (a.k.a. Zwei Leben) (2013)
Director: Georg Maas
Cast: Juliane Kohler, Liv Ullmann, Sven Nordin
In Norwegian and German, with English subtitles

The year is 1990. The Berlin Wall has just collapsed, reuniting East and West Germany. Katrine, a war child raised in East Germany, now lives peacefully in Norway with her mother, husband, daughter and grandchild. But, the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, to her, is ominous as it threatens to expose a secret that might destroy her and some people she knows.

The slow build-up of nail-biting suspense and intrigue is sustained until the very last frame. This is one kind of movie that truly enjoy watching. This is Germany's entry to the Best Foreign Language film category of the 86th Academy Awards (for movies of 2013).

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 15, 2014

Movie No. 33 (2014): STAGE FRIGHT

Stage Fright (2014)
Director: Jerome Sable
Cast: Allie MacDonald, Douglas Smith, Minnie Driver, Meat Loaf, Brandon Uranowitz

This is the story of the former Broadway diva's daughter, now a teenager working in the kitchen of an elite performing arts camp, who wishes to change her destiny by following the footsteps of her mother. She sneaks in to audition for a part and gets a major part. This is when, one by one, some people involved in the production gets killed by a mysterious serial killer; this reminds her of her own mother's death during the debut of her mother's musical in Broadway.

This is horror/musical. Yes, there are musical numbers which are odd for a horror-themed or serial-killer-type movie. But, it's not  totally ridiculously bad either. Despite some jolly musical numbers, the movie can maintain suspense required of a horror film. This will definitely not land in anyone's list of greatest or memorable films of all time, or even for a particular year, but, in my opinion, it's entertaining. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: April 7, 2014

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Movie No. 32 (2014): WALTZ WITH BASHIR

Waltz With Bashir (2008)
Director: Ari Folman
An animated, documentary film

I didn't expect the film to be a documentary. I didn't expect that an animated documentary feature can be as powerful. In this film, the director recounts his experiences and searches for his lost memories (through other veterans) as a 19-year-old soldier in the 1982 Lebanon war.

The subject of war is truly devastating, and that's well-captured in this film, either by showing scenes of devastation or by listening to the stories of those who are being interviewed by the director. The film is a visual accomplishment and it's story telling is engaging.

RatingL 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 5, 2014

Movie No. 31 (2014): STRANGER BY THE LAKE

Stranger By The Lake (2013)
Director: Alain Guiraudie
Cast: Christophe Paou, Pierre Deladonchamps
In French, with English subtitles

At the center of the film is a secluded lake on whose shore naked strangers bask in the sun and in whose calm water some swim in the nude. But, some things more interesting or dangerous happen in the bushes. In its minimalist approach, the movie some what tests your patience by showing almost repetitive scenes, maybe a suggestion of routine and boredom. And the state of quietude in the lake will be silently shaken by the discovery of a the corpse of one of the habitues of the lake in the water. Local authority starts to investigate, and two of the main characters are both suspect. The film appears to me like it's a collaborative effort of Eric Rohmer, Francois Ozon, Alfred Hitchcock, and Pedro Almodovar.

The film succeeds in building up tension and suspense, mixed with eroticism. I've never seen a film so twisted, smart, suspenseful, and sexy.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 5, 2014