Sunday, November 30, 2014

Movie No. 88 (2014): MILLER'S CROSSING

Miller's Crossing (1990)
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Gabriel Byrne, John Turturro, Marcia Gay Harden

This gangster movie examines loyalty, blackmail, and the dynamic nature of realigning alliances (when need arises) for personal gain. The maneuverings and necessary murders are written complicatedly but almost without unnecessary excesses, which results in a movie that, at present, is already a classic. Even with scenes of violence, the movie is effectively presented in glorious (sometimes glossy) photography, which is a good thing for the movie. This is one of the masterpieces of early independent films.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 30, 2014

Movie No. 87 (2014): THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
Director: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman

This is another one of the noteworthy films that have been recently shown on My Movie Channel. This is my second time seeing it in full. The first time was more than a decade ago.

The movie is based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Matt Damon plays Tom Ripley, a bisexual psychopath who has unbelievable talent in  assuming another person's identity. This talents brings him to mingle with a shipping tycoon who mistakes him for a Princeton student who knows his son. The tycoon's son is living a carefree life somewhere in Italy and the tycoon contracts Tom Ripley to go to Italy, find his son, and persuade him to return home, in exchange of a large sum of money. But, while in Italy, having finally met the tycoon's son, Tom Ripley becomes attracted to the tycoon's son and his affluence and carefree dispositions. Plan changes. Tom will use his talent to steal the identity of the tycoon's son. The movie details about how far Tom Ripley can go to be someone else.

Performances of ensemble cast are outstanding. It was reported that, although the movie was released commercially in 1999, it was made before Shakespeare In Love (1998), Elizabeth (1998) and Good Will Hunting (1997). Gwyneth Paltrow won an Oscar for Best Actress for Shakespaeare in Love, Cate Blanchett snatched snatched an Oscar Best Actress nomination for Elizabeth. Matt Damon starred in critically acclaimed and commercially successful Good Will Hunting; he also co-wrote the award-winning script of the movie. This movie turned all of them (including Jude Law and Philip Seymour Hoffman) into important Hollywood stars and actors.

The movie is well-polished, even in scenes that contrast glamor and violence. It is written in a way to sustain suspense; it also attempts to get into the psyche of a cold-blooded murderer. The movie is as good as the Purple Noon, the French adaptation of the novel.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 30, 2014

Movie No. 86 (2014): BEING JOHN MALKOVICH

Being John Malkovich (1999)
Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich

I saw this film last week on My Movie Channel. That's, I guess, the third time I saw it. This film, I guess, is one of those films that gets better during repeat watching, which is an indication the films is really good. In fact, it's one of the greatest films ever made, in my humble opinion.

The basic plot is simple, yet interesting and very original: A puppeteer, who ends up working as file clerk in a low-ceiling office in the 7.5th floor (yes, 7 1/2), discovers a portal that leads to the mind of actor John Malkovich. Anyone who enters that small door experiences to see the world on John Malkovich's point of view for fifteen minutes before being ejected and dropped into a ditch in New Jersey turnpike. After having experienced it, the puppeteer sees a money-making opportunity; he then lets others experience it for a fee. Different experiences make the story more interesting and the movie clever and mind-boggling. For example, the puppeteer's wife uses the portal to realize her homosexual or transgender fantasies while she's inside John Malkovich's head at the moment John Malokovich is having sex with a woman the puppeteer's wife desires. And then there's the puppeteer discovering how to stay longer in the portal and in fact makes it for months. And what if John Malkovich himself enters the portal? Brilliant!

Very original, the movie's script is almost without flaw. The direction and editing are simply awesome. The performances are competent. 

I will watch it again someday.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 23, 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Movie No. 85 (2014): GONE BABY GONE

Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Director: Ben Affleck
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Amy Ryan, Amy Madigan

I saw this movie several years ago. This is the second time to see it; this time on Movie Channel. This is Ben Affleck's directorial debut. He also co-wrote the script, which was adapted from a novel by Dennis Lehane.

Patrick Kenzie (Affleck) and Angie Gennaro (Monaghan), partners as private detectives (and as lovers), are called to help find a missing 4-year old girl, suspected of being kidnapped by a pedophile The little girl's family think the police is not doing enough to find the girl. The police don't mind having outsiders (Patrick and Angie) also working to find the girl. But, in the process of finding the girl, Patrick and Angie will discover a web of corruption that can threaten even their relationship.

This movie is of the crime genre, but it's delivered in a way different from the conventional formula for the genre. Must be the writing and interpretation of Ben Affleck as writer and director. Even if I read the book, I still experience the suspense that has been sustained until the end. I like the way the plotting of clues is executed.

This was definitely one of the best films of 2007.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 23, 2014

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Movie No. 84 (2014): IDA

Ida (2014)
Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska
In Polish, with English subtitles

18 year-old Anna is a sheltered orphan who's on the verge of being a full-fledged nun. Mother Superior insists that she see her only living relative. Now face-to-face with her mother's sister, Anna will be taken to a journey to the past to discover her Jewish family's dark past during the Nazi occupation when she was Anna was still an infant named Ida.

The film, shot in black and white photography, is visually stunning. The cinematography effectively captures even the coldness and emptiness of the immediate surroundings, which can viewed as allegory to Anna's response to what she's been discovering about her family's past. Some of the shots demand to be noticed. The off-centered shots look imperfect, which make the effect perfect for the meaning they convey. The actress who portrays Anna has a face that can be compared to a blank canvass, which is perfect for the character's demands. 

A masterpiece indeed.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 16, 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Movie No. 83 (2014): A MOST WANTED MAN

A Most Wanted Man (2014)
Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Willem Defoe, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Gregoriy Bobrygin

In this movie, adapted from John LeCarre's novel of the same title, Issa, a Muslim from Chechnya illegally immigrates to Hamburg, Germany from Turkey. Espionage agents from UK, US, and Germany, having learned from Russian Intelligence that Issa is an extremely dangerous person, get stirred of Issa's presence in Germany and declare him a person of interest. Soon after they'll establish link between Issa, a banker, a Muslim philantropist, and a shipping company suspected of being a front of Al Qaeda. As will be expected from espionage movies, there are conning, baits, and betrayal.

Hoffman, as expected delivers an intense performance. His characters reaction to an unexpected turn of events in the end is a real cinematic treat that can only come from an actor who really understands and easily becomes his character. Corbijn's direction is competent, one that has the capability to sustain intrigue.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 8, 2014

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Movie No. 82 (2014): THE FAULT IN OUR STARS

The Fault In Our Stars (2014)
Director: Josh Boone
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Willem Defoe, Laura Dern

Everyone knows that this is the movie adaptation of John Green's bestseller of the same title. So, everyone who read the book, and saw the movie afterwards, knew what to expect from the movie and expect they'd be disappointed. I'm glad I haven't read it yet. Probably I'll never read it. I've just seen the movie. I am not totally exhilarated, but I'm not disappointed.

The overall direction is decent despite that it occasionally falls victim of the snare called conventions of formulaic flimsy teen flicks. My major complaint is I can't care about the Hazel character. Is it the writing or the acting that seems shortchanged? If I read the book I could have understood well the Hazel character. But that's cheating. Not all who saw the movie read the book. The Gus character is actually more interesting. 

The movie has some share of memorable quotes or one liners, but the situation in which some of these lines are delivered looks contrived.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: November 6, 2014

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Movie No. 81 (2014): WRINKLES

Arrugas (a.k.a., Wrinkles) (2011)
Director: Ignacio Ferrera
Animated film; in Spanish, with English subtitles

A former bank manager (Emilio) is dispatched into a nursing/retirement home for the elderly. The he meets eccentric characters who will turn his (new) world upside down. This old-school (hand-drawn) animation doesn't the sophistication of the advanced technology for the genre to convey its story effectively. This film is certainly for adults, not because it contains sexual contents or violence, but because the theme is one that may not be appreciated by young audience.

Why does this remind me of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest? One character (Miguel) in Wrinkles rebels against the management of the facilities, but subtly. Randle McMurphy in "...Cuckoo's Nest" is too loud and frank. Miguel, on the other hand, swindles small cash cheerfully from the other residents of the nursing home who are perplexed in their dementia-induced fantasies.

 I movie is funny, sometimes sad. It can even be tragic, depends on the one who sees it. I can't imagine how sadder the movie could be were it live action. Usually the animation format adds some cheerfulness despite the sad undertone suggested by some scenes.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 3, 2104

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Movie No. 80 (2014): TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT

Two Days, One Night (2014)
Director: Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Fabrizio Rongione
In French, with English subtitles

Sandra had a nervous breakdown and took a leave from her job in a small solar cell factory in an industrial town in Belgium. The movie starts with her returning to her job after the leave. This is the what the movie is all about. The management of the factory realizes that her colleagues can cover the job she left while on leave and she's may no longer be needed. Adding complication is the management's decision to let her colleagues vote against her reinstatement (declaring her position redundant) in exchange of a 1000-euro bonus. Over the weekend, Sandra has two days and one night to literally beg her 16 colleagues to consider voting for her reinstatement. She visits each of her colleagues in their houses to beg. It may look pathetic, but this is actually what makes the movie so humane. This is one of the best character-study-type movies I've seen recently. The span of two days and one night puts pressure on post-depression Sandra, on her marriage and family, and on the lives of her colleagues, who are really expected to have different responses to this stimulus.

The premise unexpectedly makes the movie more suspenseful than any horror or action movies. Certainly, it kept pushing me on the edge of my seat, while trying to extrapolate for how the movie would end. And the ending didn't disappoint. In fact, it's brilliant.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 2, 2014

Movie No. 79 (2014): THE OMEN

The Omen (1976)
Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens

An American diplomat in London and his wife are unaware that their son is marked with Satan's number, infamous "666." Horror and the macabre ensue for everyone who stands in his way.

I saw this movie before. I don't remember when. I've just seen it again (in full) on Movie Channel. For me, horror does not necessarily equate to seeing the macabre, gore, and lurking shadows, or trying to withstand eerie sound effects on screen. The thought of the Anti-Christ thing is itself enough to bring horror. The execution of the movie is faithful in the classic way of presenting horror films. It may not be the best horror movie ever made, but it surely has left a mark in the history of cinema.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: November 1, 2014

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Movie No. 78 (2014): GOOD WILL HUNTING

Good Will Hunting (1997)
Director: Gus Van Sant
Cast: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skasgard, Ben Affleck

I saw this movie in 1997 in Columbus, OH during it's original theater run. This is the second time I've seen it in full. It's on the Movie Channel this time.  I remember liking it much the first time.
This time, however, I find it even more satisfying.

Matt Damon as Will Hunting, the out-of-school youth who's a mathematics genius, delivered a fine performance. This was the movie that made him a star. Robin Williams (as the psychiatrist who helps Will Hunting the Will Hunting character find direction for his life) deserved the Academy Award that he won for this performance. Minnie Driver and Stellan Skasgard were in their best forms, too. 

The drama that unfolds in the film avoids the common pitfall of being too sentimental, which could have ruined the movie. It turns out to be inspiring and heartfelt.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 1, 2014

Movie No. 77 (2014): THIEF

Thief (1981)
Director: Michael Mann
Cast: James Caan, Tuesday Weld, Robert Prosky

James Caan, in probably the finest performance of his career, is a jewel thief who usually goes solo. Then, in the hope of settling down with the girl he wants to marry and live a normal life, he agrees to work with an organized crime group for a final heist. But the trouble is the crime boss doesn't want him to break free.

The film, Michael Mann's debut, is cool and its execution sophisticated, reminiscent of the works of the masters of noir of 1950s and 1960s (Jean Pierre Melvillle, Jules Dassin). Some people of this generation might find this film off since there are scenes that seem like a demonstration of of exercise in Thievery 101. In my opinion, however, that the director's style. The film's treatment of the main character is focuses, which is more important than anything else. The story knows exactly where it starts and ends in a way that's so fluid.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 1, 2014