Thursday, December 24, 2015

Movie No. 71 (2015): ROOM

Room (2015)
Director: Lenny Abrahamnson
Cast: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, William H. Macy, Joan Allen

Room is based on the Booker Prize - shortlisted novel of Emma Donoghue, who also writes the screenplay. The narrative is very original, which is rare for movies these days, despite the theme that it tackles - the boundless love between mother and son. Ironically, this takes place inside a confined space Jack calls room where he's been living with his mother he calls Ma since his birth five years ago. Neither Ma nor Jack has the key. A frequent visitor keeps the He has no idea of the world outside the room. He believes that the things he sees on TV (yes, they have TV in the room) are only make-believe. He's no complaints of the everyday routine as long as Ma and her undivided attention toward him are there. But, now that he's five, his mother starts to explain the reality that the're actually prisoners in that room and outside it are real people, trees, dogs, etc. Jack refuses to believe it. 

I'm not gonna go into details. But they manage to get out eventually. For both Jack and Ma, to be outside the room is another challenge to deal with.

Larson's and Tremblay's are among the most heartbreaking performances I've seen on screen. The movie succeeds in making us feel the claustrophobia in that room as a result of some people's mindless commitment of evil deeds against innocent people. This reminds me of Life Is Beautiful, where the child sees the ugly world he's in as a play ground as long as his father is with him.

Great movie!

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 24, 2015

Movie No. 70 (2015): EX_MACHINA

Ex_Machina (2015)
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Alicia, Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, Sonoya, Mizuno

Caleb, a programmer at a giant internet-search company, wins an internal competition whose prize is a week stay  in the secluded estate of the the company's reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman. But, as soon as he arrives in the estate, Caleb learns from Nathan that he will be the human component of a Turing test on Ava (Nathan's current A.I. project); he's charged of evaluating the capabilities and consciousness of Ava through seven interactive sessions. 

This is a science fiction movie, hence, special effects are inevitable. I'm always critical of movies that are merely showcase of latest advancements and ideas in special effects, sacrificing the narrative along the way. But, Ex_Machina, in my opinion, uses special effects when and where they are needed to enhance the narrative. The movie cares about character study and examination of "humanity" or almost lack of it in the midst of a scientific and technological breakthrough. It can be cerebral, which is among the beauties of the movie. The "thriller" effect of the movie, while subtle, is enduring. On another level, it can be disturbing, but intelligent.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 24, 2015

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Movie No. 69 (2015): SICARIO

Sicario (2015)
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin
In English and (occasional) Spanish (with English subtitles)

An idealistic FBI agent (Emily Blunt), a government task force office (Josh Brolin), and an former prosecutor are on an operation in a lawless Mexican town where drug trafficking is rampant and bursting gun fires are everyday occurrence. 

There's a lot of good things about the movie, which saves it from being a cliche due to the fact that there were several movies in the past that also used the same platform. For one, the cinematography is stunning. That the performances are sharp is another thing. Then, the script, though gritty, is fluid, with a jaw-dropping twist, which has been translated into screen aided by competent direction. 

I can't say the movie is enjoyable because of its theme. But, it really is accomplished an accomplished movie.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 22, 2015

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Movie No. 68 (2015): A MOMENT TO REMEMBER

A Moment To Remember (2004)
Director: John H. Lee
Cast: Jung Woo-Sung, Sohn Ye-Jin
In Korean, with English subtitles

Sujin's lover stood her up at the train station. Next scene: she ended up in a convenience store where, due to her impending affliction she's not aware of, she met Choi in some awkward situation. At this point, it was expected that Sujin and Choi were the central characters of the movie. Otherwise, what would be that scene for?

Indeed, the movie's narrative moved forward with the two characters' relationship also moving forward. Conspicuously, Sujin's affliction also slowly advanced. A shadow of her past crept back. These developments were perfect for a melodrama. The movie almost didn't attempt at shying away from it (in most scenes). On the contrary, it fully embraced the genre. This decision was not totally a bad thing. In fact, it made the movie really involving, entertaining, and heartbreaking. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 30, 2015

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Movie No. 67 (2015): ADAM'S APPLES

Adam's Apples (2007)
Director: Anders Thomas Jensen
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Ulrich, Nicolas Bro, Ali Kazim, Paprika Steen
In Danish, with English subtitles

A preacher (Ivan) in a remote church has a penchant for adopting criminals on parole, giving them odd jobs of their choice, on the hope that they reform. At the moment, he has two: a vindictive and trigger-happy Saudi immigrant (Khalid) and an ex-tennis pro (Gunnar), who is alcoholic. A third case arrives. He is Adam, a neo-Nazi who has connections with local gangsters. Ivan asks Adam what he wants to do; Adam replies sarcastically that he wants to bake apple cakes. Ivan approves and entrusts to Adam the apple trees that, at the moment, are riddled with unripe fruits.

But birds and worms start to devour the fruits. This event triggers different reactions from Ivan, Adam, Khalid and Gunnar, which will make us get a closer look at their characters. Ivan, being overly optimistic, dismisses it as a mere test. Adam, surprised at the Ivan's level of optimism, takes upon himself to make Ivan realize that life is not as simple as that. 

The Book of Job is an obvious reference to the 'trials' that Ivan endures. The movie is almost perfect if not for some excesses. The black comedy treatment works well for the movie. All the actors perform well. Cinematography is a demonstration of how art in science are balanced in composition of practically every important scene.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date scene: November 30, 2015

Monday, November 30, 2015

Movie No. 66 (2015): STA. NINA

Sta. Nina (2012)
Director: Emmanuel Q. Palo
Cast: Coco Martin, Alessandra De Rossi, Anita Linda, Angel Aquino, Irma Adlawan

The film, a finalist in the 2012 Cinemalaya Film Festival, is an examination of faith in a small town that was partly buried under lahar (volcanic emission) a few years ago. Those who chose to remain in the area have learned to pick up the pieces to start their new lives. Pol and Madel lost their two-year-old daughter to meningitis ten years ago. But now, the coffin of the dead child resurfaces in a quarry. The dead child shows no evidence of decomposition. Pol takes his daughter in his house, trying to find explanation why his daughter comes back in preserved state. Soon, the news about the resurgence breaks out and neighbors and diseased people from nearby towns flock to Pol's house hoping for miracle. 

Stubborn Pol has other plans. He believes what he wants to believes, dismissing the advice of the local clergy. Soon, we'll discover the Pol and Madel's past and make sense of Pol's behavior. In my opinion, the resurgence of the dead child is a metaphor that forces Pol and every one connected to him to finally face the demons of their past.

In the middle of the film, I couldn't resist comparing the movie to Himala. But the Bernal film had set a high standard for a film tackling a similar topic and Sta, Nina surely pales in comparison with the classic film. But, Sta. Nina has its strengths and a few to improve on. The direction is competent. Performances are excellent, particularly those of Coco Martin, Alessandra De Rossi, and Irma Adlawan. Coco Martin seem to be most effective when giving life to troubled characters on screen.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 29, 2015

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Movie No. 65 (2015): SEVENTH CODE

Seventh Code (2014)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Ryohei Suzuki
In Japanese (and some Russian), with English subtitles

Smitten by a mysterious man called Matsunaga (Ryohei Suzuki), who she met once in Japan, Akiko (Atsuko Maeda) follows him in Vladivoskok, Russia upon knowing he's already there. But, on meeting him again, this time in Russia, he dumps her after treating her for a drink. Stubborn and persistent as she seems to be, she just doesn't give up. She will find him again. Meanwhile, she ends up working in a small Japanese restaurant, while waiting for her luck to find Matsunaga again. She befriends the Chinese waitress who's the girlfriend of the restaurant owner who's also a Japanese.

The movie completely fooled me, but in a nice and surprising way. I was never prepared for the eventual conclusion, although the ending (or final sequence) still remains a mystery. Well, it may just be the way it is. I remember I've been warned as, in one scene, Matsunaga relates to Akiko that she should never trust strangers. So, even the Akiko character, to me, remains a stranger whose secret life I might never know. Come to think of it, all the characters in this movie have no back story. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 29, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Movie No. 64 (2015): TO KILL A MAN

To Kill A Man (a.k.a. Matar A Un Hombre)
Director: Alejandro Fernandez Almendras
Cast: Daniel Candia, Alejandra Yanes, Daniel Antivilo
In Spanish, with English subtitles

A neighborhood bully never stops tormenting an working class man and his family. Fed up with the extent by which the bully torments his family and frustrated with the inefficiency of the judicial and police system from whom he asks help, an the man decides to put the law in his hands. A moral dilemma then ensues. 

The movie is told in a way that tension slowly builds up. Despite this, there's no explosive climax so to say. Just a resolution to conclude the movie.

The movie was Chile's entry to the 87th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 20, 2015

Movie No. 63 (2015): PARADISE NOW

Paradise Now (2005)
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Cast: Ali Suliman, Kais Nashef
In Arabic, with English subtitles

Winner, 2005 Golden Globes Award for Best Foreign-Language Film. Nominee, 2005 Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film.

I saw the movie in 2006. It was shocking. Now, after the recent Turkey, Beirut, and Paris attacks which, according to the news, involved suicide bombers, I felt some wanting to see the movie again. I remember the movie being so engaging, but I already forgot some details. Anyway, good movies need to be seen again (and again).

The movie takes us closer to the minds of would-be suicide bombers hours before the deed. It's disturbing to see two friends from the West Bank not showing any sign of resistance when they're told they've been chosen for a mission, as suicide bombers, to attack Tel Aviv. These people are not portrayed is violent person. They're like other ordinary people doing ordinary things like the others in their community. Hours before the deed, something goes awry which forces the masterminds of this rite of passage to martyrdom to change plans. It is during this new plan that we really get into the minds of the would-be terrorists (or martyrs). We even get a glimpse of the roots of this "culture." And it's really disturbing. But, even if this thing really happens or even if the story is based on reality, I can't feel hatred toward the "martyrs." I just don't know how to react or feel. It's paralyzing. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 20, 2015

Movie No. 62 (2015): MARY & MAX

Mary & Max (2009)
Director: Adam Elliot
Voice Cast: Toni Colette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana

This stop motion animated film from Australia is about the unlikely friendship between two pen pals, Mary and Max. Mary is a lonely girl from Australia. Max is an elderly man, living with an imaginary friend in his apartment in New York. 

This is one of the most charming, heavily emotional, and heartbreaking (animated) films  I've ever seen. It showcases a different kind of (random) friendship that spans from Mary's adolescence through her adulthood. It effectively captures the psyche of two lonely persons who are separated by great distance. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 19, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)
Director: Roy Andersson
Cast: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom
In Swedish, with English subtitles

The very first time I saw an event in a scene that appears out of place and illogical, I knew what it surreal. From then, I expected more absurdities. And, indeed, there were absurd and surreal scenes like the stopover of a contingent of medieval soldiers led by a thirsty king in a restaurant, a dance rehearsal that's a challenge to connect to other scenes,the three encounters with death, etc. All these were witnessed by a pair of uninteresting salesmen, both of retiring age, who, in practically all of their scenes, were peddling novelties that they would promote as party necessities. The whole of the film is, indeed, a disconnected reflection of human existence or about being human being. It's like a poetry whose meaning needs to be unearthed from the symbolism of its elements.

If there's one word to describe the film, it's "inventive" or "original."

The film won the Golden Lion Award at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.
Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 17, 2016

Monday, November 16, 2015


Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014)
Director: Ronit Elkabetz / Shlomi Elkabetz
Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Menashe Noy
In French, Arabic, and Hebrew with English subtitles

Viviane Amsalem wants a way out of an emotionally-torturing marriage. She files a divorce. The problem is her husband, Elisha, doesn't grant her divorce. And according to the law, the husband's decision is more powerful than the jury, which consists of Rabbi Judges. The trial that ensues is more tortuous than the marriage Viviane wants to get out of.

All the scenes in the movie take place in a small courtroom. The claustrophobic setting seems like a metaphor for inconvenience that the absurd law puts any woman who wants divorce in. The film is direct attack on the chauvinistic nature of the marriage law. It looks like that the law itself is the one that is being tried in this intensely acted movie. The use of close-ups and calculated gestures are effective.

As a movie, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem can be more thrilling than any Summer blockbusters from Hollywood. The thrill is sustained until the end. This is another testament that mindless blasting, time-consuming chase sequences, and ostentatious display of special effects are not necessary to make a movie that can be entertaining and at the same time does not make the audience feel shortchanged.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 16, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Movie No. 59 (2015): LOREAK (a.k.a. Flowers)

Loreak (a.k.a. Flowers)
Director: Jose Mari Goenaga / Jon Garano
Cast: Nagore Aramburu, Itziar Itunu, Itziar Aizpuru
In Basque language, with English subtitles

An important scene from the movie "Loreak"
This movie is a subtle romance. It is also about death and remembrance. A subtle hint of intrigue or mystery adds spice to this movie that's intended for the audience who have experienced to be in nearly similar situations. 

The movie is about three headstrong women. However, it's hard to establish the connection of these women during the first 20 or 30 minutes. In the beginning, one of the women regularly receives flowers from an anonymous sender, which makes her feel important at during the particular time when she experiences symptoms of menopause and unhappy marriage. Then there's this toll gate attendant and her mother-in-law. Then an accident and death happen, but there's a twist that makes mourning for the bereaved  a challenge. However, the death offers solution to a mystery, and connections among the women are established. Next scenes are mostly about flowers being brought and laid to the site of the accident. And then the painful conclusion.

I feel that the movie can also make a perfect novel. The use of flowers as metaphor for love, death, or remembrance is carefully explored in the movie. The three lead actors deliver practically perfect performances.

This is Spain's official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film race of 88th Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 15, 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Movie No. 58 (2015): GOODNIGHT MOMMY

Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Director: Severin Fiala / Veronika Franz
Cast: Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Susan Wuest
In German, with English subtitle

How do you make a movie out of an isolated house, identical twins, a divorce, and a plastic surgery? Smells like a horror movie is in the offing. This Austrian movie (Goodnight Mommy) proves it can be made. And it can be made excellently.

The movie is slow; it takes time to develop the characters. But when everything makes sense, one will realize how excellently written the movie is. To say the twist or twists are genius is an understatement. I've seen some good films of similar plots, but this particular movie can still be considered a breath of fresh air. Wow - did I utter expletives when everything made sense, and when I realized I was actually watching a horror film (one that may not be for everyone's liking)? Brilliant.

Everything about this movie is praiseworthy: that cinematography that helps depict deceptive, nightmarish scenes, the tense musical score, and the excellent performances.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 8, 2015

Monday, October 19, 2015

Movie No. 57 (2015): 1001 GRAMS

1001 Grams
Director: Bent Hamer
Cast: Ane Dahl Torp, Stein Winge, Laurent Stocker
In Norwegian and French, with English subtitles

Marie works as researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Weights and Measures, where the delicate (Norwegian) prototype of a kilogram is kept. Her father, who is also a scientist in the same field, is supposed to attend an international seminar about the kilo, (to be) held at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in France. However, due to bad health he can't. So, Marie takes his place instead and tags along with her the prototype, which must be handled with utmost care. Over some significant running time of the movie, Marie goes back and forth Norway and France, all the time the prototype with her. In this course, she meets a former researcher at the BIPM who does gardening and recording chirping of birds on his spare time. Then a minor accident happens putting the integrity of the prototype to risk.

Marie is depicted as a very neat person. Shots of the way she works, the way she deals with others (co-worker, father, friends, and new acquaintances), and where she lives are indication of her being composed. It appears everything she does is calculated: the frequency of her trips to her father's house, weighing her food, staying on just one side of the bed (suggesting she used to have someone sleeping beside her), etc. Realizing this makes me suggest that the prototype is a metaphor for obsession to references. What is the importance of weight to men? Marie, in one important scene, even quotes "Life's heaviest burden is to have nothing to carry." That question and Marie's quote seem to be the thesis of the movie.

The framing of the movie also appears calculated, reflective of the movie's theme. The cinematography is topnotch, one thing that's easily noticed. Ane Dahl Torp (as Marie) gives an excellent performance, using only her almost stoic face and body movements most of the time. I am almost convinced that even her movements are calculated (in a good way). 

A movie of this kind is rare.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 19, 2015

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Movie No. 56 (2015): STILL THE WATER

Futatsume No Mado (a.k.a. Still The Water)
Director: Naomi Kawase
Cast: Nijiro Murakami, Jun Yoshinaga
In Japanese, with English subtitles

Close-up of cresting waves against dark horizon as backdrop, long shot of still water on rocky shore, close-up of a goat being slaughtered, in-your-face shot of locals in what looks like a celebratory or ritual dance, the discovery of a naked man floating on the shore, dead. This is the series of scenes that open the movie. Then we see the two main characters (Kyoko and Kaito), both in high school uniform, among the curious crowd who witness the fishing out of the dead man. Kaito looks concerned, Kyoko indifferent. All these happen in a remote Japanese island frequented by typhoon. This sets the tone of the narrative, which turns out really interesting.

In the succeeding scenes, we see that Kyoko and Kaito have their own worries. Kyoko's mother is dying, thus her separation anxiety. Kaito's mother is a single parent; he despises her lechery. Kaito and Kyoko have a special bond that's hard to describe. But we see how their own worries almost prevents the bond between them to transform into romance. The movie's strong point is on the way it shows things happen, characters developed, and conflicts resolved. It effectively connects in a poetic fashion the events shown in the opening scenes to the crucial scenes and revelations in the latter part of the movie.

Watching the movie makes me feel like reading a well-written essay on love, death, and acceptance, with the movie's musical score in the background. That music kind is unfamiliar, but it blends well with the scenes. In fact, it enhances what the scenes try to convey.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 18, 2015

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Movie No. 55 (2015): CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart

This feminist character study is centered on the professional relationship between a successful international actress (Maria Enders) and her personal assistant (Val). While in transit to Sils Maria, where Maria Enders is to accept an award on behalf of the director who made her famous twenty years ago in a play called "Maloja Snake," they receive the news that the director has just died. Now, Maria Enders is asked to be cast in the revival of the play. In the original production she was Sigrid, young woman who drove her boss Helena to suicide. In the revival, Maria Enders will play Helena. This is what drives the narrative, which flow like the "snake," which is a cloud formation that creeps over the valley of Sils Maria on certain occasions. The hesitation of Maria to do the revival, the rehearsals that somehow mirror the relationship between Maria and Val, and Maria's disdain over (or identifying with) the young but controversial Hollywood starlet who will play Sigrid are driving forces of the flow of the narrative.

The movie is charged with strong performances. While Juliette Binoche as Maria Enders has always been reliable to tackle complex and layered character, Kristen Stewart as Val is surprisingly good.

Some may find this movie talky. In my opinion, this may be the technique used (i.e., effective writing) to get a closer look at the characters and their back stories. It worked for me.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 8, 2015

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Movie No. 54 (2015): MOMMY

Mommy (2014)
Director: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, Antoine Olivier Pilon
In French, with English subtitles

"Mommy" is an interesting story about a never-say-die widow, whose nickname is Die, and her teenage son (Steve) who has ADHD. The mother-and-son relationship is semi-turbulent, but they always mend occasional bouts of heated verbal exchanges, because they love each other. Then a neighbor enters the picture during one incident. In no time, the neighbor becomes part of their system, who becomes the equalizer. Together, the three forge an interesting relationship. 

This character study will surely linger. I like the way it depicts ADHD as a cry for help and not much as a behavioral disorder. It's mother's love and random kindness of stranger that are under scrutiny in a world where people are indifferent. 

I was quite bothered by the films aspect ratio: it's square, probably 1:1. Then, at a little more than an hour of running time, Steve ceremoniously makes it wider via a cinematic gesture of opening a curtain to reveal a wider stage during a scene where the three are having real fun, oblivious of the world. Then the aspect ratio would occasionally shift from 1:1 to full screen and back depending on the mood that the narrative wished to portray. Impressive.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 4, 2015

Friday, October 2, 2015

Movie No. 53 (2015): EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN

Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Si-Hung Lung, Kuei-Mei Yang, Sylvia Chang, Chien-Lien Wu, Yu-Wen Wang
In Chinese/Mandarin, with English subtitles

Mr. Chu, a widower, is Taipei's best chef. But, due to his age, he's starting to 'lose his taste buds.' He has three grown-up daughters, all living in his house. The eldest, who is practically an old maid, is a chemistry teacher, a Christian, and is cynical about men after a failed relationship in the past. Daughter number two is a successful airline executive who has fixation on maintaining amorous relationships with men who can't commit. The youngest is a promiscuous college students who gets pregnant. 

Mr. Shu never fails to cook for Sunday dinner where everyone is required to be present. They don't talk much; food is their way to communicate. But important announcements always occur during Sunday dinner. It's in this way we get to know them. It's in this way they get to know the goings-on to each family member. I don't want to detail every event and scene, but all I have to say is that the movie cleverly and effectively used food and the dining table both as a common ground and battle ground. There's one funny scene in one of the dining gathering that makes the movie have a sharp turn leading to unexpected conclusion. 

The movie was the second movie by Ang Lee that got nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars. During the preceding year, The Wedding Banquet was nominated, too. His third movie to be nominated was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which eventually won the award in 2000.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 2, 2015

Monday, September 28, 2015


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon
Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke

Greg, at a young age, has developed obsession with classic and foreign-language films. He's in senior high school. Earl who Greg introduces as his 'co-worker' is actually a friend since childhood. Rachel is a girl from his class with whom he hasn't talked since kindergarten. She has leukemia, which has just been diagnosed. Greg's mother forces him to hang around with Rachel. And the movie is pretty much about the 'days of doomed friendship' between Greg and Rachel. Occasionally, it's a threesome whenever Earl is around.

Funny and moving - this is how I describe the film. Since it's supposedly told on the point of view of Earl, who's just forced to befriend Rachel because she's dying, there are some emotional emptiness in scenes that supposedly show how they develop friendship. I like to think it is what it is. 

The movie is far from being a tearjerker. But the tears that I tried to hold back in the end were deserved. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 27, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Movie No. 51 (2015): PAY THE GHOST

Pay The Ghost (2015)
Directors: Uli Edel
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Sarah Wayne Callies

Halloween. Mike, a Literature professor, just gets the news of his tenure in the unnamed university in New York. He races back home to share the news to his wife and to celebrate the festivities with his son, Charlie, who's dressed as a pirate. But, in the Halloween carnival Charlie disappears, almost without a trace hadn't he left behind the pirate's hat.

But that hat serves no purpose in the narrative.

I have to congratulate myself for having endured the entire running time of the movie. Pay The Ghost is supposed to be a horror movie. But, I didn't feel the requisite scare common to horror movies. Instead, I felt like seeing a boring episode of a television crime series. In fact, even the worst episodes of Without A Trace or CSI or Law & Order are better than this movie. Everything I saw in the movie I already saw in other movies in the genre. Other B movies of the genre are much better. I guess, the problem of Pay The Ghost is the script. Or, the thesis itself. 

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: September 27, 2015

Movie No. 50 (2015): HENERAL LUNA

Heneral Luna (2015)
Director: Jerrold Tarog
Cast: John Arcilla, Arron Villaflor, Archie Alemania, Joem Bascon, Epy Quizon, Mon Confiado, Leo Martinez, Noni Buencamino, Mylene Dizon, Paulo Avelino

I'm grateful about the people who are brave and passionate enough to make this movie. In the part of the world where most movie-viewing people are content with seeing only escapist cinema (e.g., slapstick and romance comedies, mistress-themed formula movies), Heneral Luna is a much-welcome outing, a breath of fresh air. The story may not be "fresh" since it's supposedly fleshed out from events that actually happened during the Philippine-American War. Since the documents recording this phase of Philippine history are, in opinion, still unable to complete the jigsaw, and some controversial questions still left unanswered, the movie takes the liberty of artfully creating snippets in the narrative that may provoke audience into suggesting links between events.

The centerpiece of the movie is, of course, General Antonio Luna. While there maybe hints that the movie is almost imposing the idea of nationalism, I don't see it that way. I'm more interested in the Antonio Luna character who is passionate enough to be imposing that to the point of him being repulsive and obnoxious. He's portrayed as a human being, with all his genius, faults and misgivings.

The script, editing, and meticulous direction make the story flow with ease. The cinematography is something to behold. Major performances (including those of the supporting actors who play pertinent personalities in this phase pf history) are competent. And the movie as a whole is genius. In my opinion, this movie will be a much-welcome addition to the short list of real masterpieces of Philippine cinema.

I'm happy that people flocked and endured the long queues at cinema lobbies to see this masterpiece. I'm happy to see satisfied audience who couldn't contain their appreciation of the movie. Some of them even claimed to have seen the movie twice or thrice already. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 25, 2015

Friday, September 25, 2015

Movie No. 49 (2015): IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER

In the Name of the Father (1993)
Director: Jim Sheridan
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Emma Thompson, Pete Postlewaite

Based on a true story, the movie is about the so-called Guildford Four, who were falsely accused or used as scapegoats in the desperate war against the IRAs by the London police force who were pressured to carry out convictions. One of the four is a petty thief, Gerry Conlon. But things get complicated when even his truly innocent father and relatives got implicated in the case.
I saw this film in 1994. I remember I was too much affected by the injustice to the Guildford Four. It's on this second viewing of the film (21 years after) that I truly understand that it's the acting and excellently paced narrative that have made the movie as great as people who love the movie see it. The movie is angry and intense, and the performances inspired. The movie got 7 Academy Award nominations during that year, including Best Picture and Director as well as the performances of Daniel Day-Lewis, Pete Postlewaite, and Emma Thompson.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: September 25, 2015

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Pocket Poetry: ECHOES


They don't die easily.

They just fade away in asymptote,
leaving marks on the walls of eternity,
where even oblivion forgets to remember.

The wind will take us to this place,
where echoes of pain and joy transcend
the dreams that outlive the dreamers.



Just to make sure I looked up the meaning of touchy from Merriam-Webster. I was right. It's still the same definition that our high school teacher taught us.

Touchy (adj.): marked by readiness to take offense on slight provocation.

A lot of people that I know (or have interacted with) use the word to describe a person who physically touches others as he is wont to do, like a boy to his girlfriend or a girl to her boyfriend. Think of the hands' busyness during a couple's PDA (public display of affection).

Now, for the main purpose of writing this random thought.

Let me say, Filipinos are so touchy. You may not agree with me. In fact, I worry that some may take this as another provocation. But, let me enumerate some media events that elicited the ire of our touchy compatriots. We hated Claire Danes for airing her observations about filth in the streets and people with no feet that she saw while filming in Manila. Do you remember Teri Hatcher's dialogue in Grey's Anatomy, commenting on some medical schools in the Philippines? How about Lucy Liu's comparing her (burnt) skin color to that of our skin's? And then Manny Pacquiao lost his last two fights to the delight of the Mexicans, but some of us took it personally; some even digitally attacked and bullied Justin Bieber just because he's not a Pacquiao fan.

Pikon, that's what I mean. Some of us just can't handle the truth.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Movie No. 48 (2015): OLIVER TWIST

Oliver Twist (1948)
Director: David Lean
Cast: John Howard Davies, Alec Guinness

I didn't read Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, but I saw Carol Reed's 1968 musical film based on the book - Oliver! I also saw the local production of the stage musical Oliver! It's from these that I got to learn about the story of the orphan Oliver Twist. 

Now on the David Lean's screen adaptation of the classic: marvelous! Every mise-en-scene is carefully crafted. It excellently helped make the story-telling fluid and and the movie itself absorbing. Black and white photography almost always add to the artful composition and it worked quite well in this movie. Alec Guinness completely disappeared in Fagin. 

Most critics say this is the best adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic. I can't comment on this but I want to believe it after seeing it.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 31, 2015

Movie No. 47 (2015): LE NOTTI DI CABIRIA (Nights of Cabiria)

Nights of Cabiria (a.k.a. Le Notti Di Cabiria) (1957)
Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Giulietta Masina
In Italian, with English subtitles

Nights of Cabiria is a tragicomic tale of a naive prostitute with a kind heart. Giulietta Mesina is so effective portraying both innocence while prostituting in night-time Rome. From the way she talks to the way she walks, dance, contorts her face, and move her eyes, hers is a performance that's just awesome. Cabiria's exploits are both comic and dramatic, sometimes filled with tension. We get to know every facet of Cabiria's character by the way she deals with everyone and everything that comes her way. Call it great writing.

What happens to the character is devastating. But the way the narrative is carried out and the manner scenes are framed make the movie a treasure of world cinema.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 31, 2014

Movie No. 46 (2015): I VITELLONI

I Vitelloni (1953)
Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Franco Fabrizi, Alberto Sordi, Franco Interlenghi
In Italian, with English subtitles

Tho movie is centered on a group of five male friends "who refuse to grow up." They have dreams of leaving the town but these dreams ironically put them into stasis. This is a kind of premise that most of the movie-going public now are indifferent about. But real and great cinema use only simple premises which great writes and directors use as spring board of truly unforgettable cinema. Imagination is the key.
The movie, despite its being simple, effortlessly sucked my interest and attention into its narrative. It's easy to get to know the characters. The tale is bittersweet. The black and white photography simply enhanced the mise-en-scene whose effect was to render each frame a visual poetry. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 29, 2015

Movie No. 45 (2015): MARIA LEONORA TERESA

Maria Leonora Teresa (2014)
Director: Wenn V. Deramas
Cast: Iza Calzado, Jodi Sta. Maria, Iza Calzado, Cris Villanueva, Dante Ponce, Maria Isabel Lopez, Ruby Ruiz

The interesting premise can be a dashboard for an interesting movie. But the writing/directing team decides to create a horror film out of it, which is fine and challenging. To capitalize on grief to create a horror film is not new. But this team aims to create something fresh. However, the good intention simply ends with the intention. Everything in the execution, from writing to directing, goes awry. The plot fails when a silly decision of the spirit with burnt face changes the course of the events. Even the calculated performances of Iza Calzado and Jodi Sta. Maria can't save the movie from mess.

Yes, this can be an acceptable horror film. Despite the non-innovative cheap tricks and prerequisite gore, the movie can still elicit scare. But, even in horror films, there's should be some 'logical' explanation on how things become as they are. The resolution is contrived and seems to have stemmed from lack of idea. Too foolish. Even the idea of dolls is silly.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: August 23, 2015 (on ABS-CBN Channel 2)


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Movie No. 44 (2015): ICE POISON

Ice Poison (2014)
Director: Midi Z
Cast: Wang Shih-Hong, Wu Ke-Xi
In Chinese, with English subtitles

That the film is made on a tight budget is conspicuous. However, this meager budget proves that it can't be an obstacle to come up with decent output. The film is set in Lashio, a remote agricultural town in Burma that is known have large population of Chinese descent and farmland for vegetables and opium poppies.

The film shows how harsh economic and social realities force two people, both bored and wanting to earn, sell crystal meth. This is effectively etched in the narrative. I notice several instances of long takes with the camera placed not too close to the characters. Some might probably suggest editing some of these scenes. But for me, that cinematographic technique makes me feel I'm only a few feet away from the characters as I observe them and listen to their conversations. These long takes also make me know the characters very well. 

The film is simple but it is so involving that it's impact is strong and universal. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 21, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

Movie No. 43 (2015): THE WIND RISES

The Wind Rises (2014)
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
In Japanese, with English subtitles

Disney makes animated film for children. Studio Ghibli has a share of such kind of films, though, but it has a longer filmography of animated films that are not necessarily for children. Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, though not made for children, is something that children can enjoy, too.
The Wind Rises is Jiro Horikoshi's love affair with airplanes as well his romantic love story with a terminally ill girl. His fascination with airplanes makes him eventually become aeronautical engineer who designs fighter planes (because he can't be a pilot due to nearsightedness). It's interesting to note that his nearsightedness is used as a metaphor to his character, which is the basis of practically all his actions and decisions. 

As what is expected from a Studio Ghibli movie, particularly one that is either produced or directed by Miyazaki, every scene is pleasant to eye, like viewing a water color painting. The script is almost flawless. The direction is inspired.

Simply magnificent.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 21, 2015

Movie No. 42 (2015): MIRACLE IN CELL NO. 7

Miracle in Cell No. 7 (2013)
Director: Seung-Ryong Ryu, So Won Kal
In Korean, with English subtitles

While the focus of the story is the amazing relationship between a mentally-handicapped father (named Yong-Goo) and his adorable daughter (named Ye-Seung), it can't be helped but view the film a a prison film, too, because practically all the scenes take place in the prison. But as a prison film, the movie looks too "clean." I tend to interpret it as the child's (Ye-Seung's) innocent point of view (reminiscent of Benigni's Life is Beautiful). I'm also critical about the images we see of the criminals who share Cell No. 7 with Yong-Goo. I don't know if it's intentional to make them look like they had no criminal past. They're all too good to be true. Maybe this is the so-called "miracle," i.e., everything seems to fall into the right place. Meaning, a lot of instances of contrivance have almost ruined the emotional effect of the movie. Some melodramatic moments are misplaced and need some editing or rewriting, in my opinion. To top it all, the circumstance that sent Yong-Goo to prison needs to be rewritten. It's a mess. But there are flash of geniuses (some cinematic moments) that, unfortunately, can't save the movie from a near mess.

This is my opinion.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: August 21, 2015

Movie No. 41 (2015): SIMON OF THE DESERT

Simon of the Desert (1965)
Director: Luis Bunuel
Cast: Claudio Brook, Silvia Pinal
In Spanish, with English subtitles

This is a film that seems simple. But, in my opinion, it speaks a lot about how the so-called Christians, represented by the clergy in the film, highlight and emphasize Christ's sufferings rather than his teachings. Simon is not Christ, but it appears that, in the film, he represents him. Everything in the film, as Simon insists on his display of ascetism by standing on a tower in the desert for years, is  an instance that mirrors Christ's travails, including the temptation of Christ in the desert by Satan.

I'm still contemplating on that ending, though.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 11, 2015

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Movie No. 40 (2015): THE FORGER

The Forger (2014)
Director: Philip Martin
Cast: John Travolta, Christopher Plummer, Tye Sheridan

With the help of an old contact, con artist Ray Cutter, who has exceptional talent in forging things, gets released from prison (on parole?) 10 months earlier. His reason: to spend time with his teenage son who has a stage four brain tumor. But Ray's father who has been taking care of his son is suspicious of his early release; the father doesn't want Ray's presence in the household. Meanwhile, Ray has a price to pay in exchange of his early release: to forge a Monet, steal the original from the exhibit, and replace it with the forged version.

So, this must be a heist movie. And this is a family drama (?) of the tearjerker kind. This is an odd combination. And it fails. John Travolta registers a stoic facial expression when the character he's portraying is anything but that. The script is flawed. The heist part is poorly edited.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: August 9, 2015

Movie No. 39 (2015): TAKLUB

Taklub (2015)
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Cast: Nora Aunor, Julio Diaz, Lou Veloso

Opening film, Cinemalaya XI (2015).
Taklub paints a portrait of what remains of a town that was ravaged by Typhoon Yoland (Haiyan). The narrative the lives (or what seems to be just existence) of four characters who are all living victims strongest and most disastrous typhoon that ever landed in the Philippines (and the world). We see them do their daily businesses, hoping against hope of finding their (still) lost relatives and re-building their lives, while facing some random challenges that will either break them or make them numb. The film succeeds in being a character study. It doesn't preach. It doesn't blame. It just tells a story - the story of hope and losing it.

Nora Aunor, Julio Diaz, and Lou Veloso gave wonderful performances. Julio Diaz (as Larry) walking away after giving up the wooden cross we see him carry occasionally is a cinematic achievement. Lou Veloso's wishing that the sea would swallow him is jaw-dropping. But it's Nora Aunor's ubiquity that makes every frame look perfect and paint a thousand words. She's just in most scenes, where she doesn't even speak or move, that make the narrative move forward and make some points. There's this scene where she's shown walking away from the camera, and we feel how she feels as we see it in the way she walks with a heavy pace and in the manner her shoulders falls and rises. 

And that ending is hard to chew. I was holding back tears. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 7, 2015

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Movie No. 38 (2015): WOMAN IN GOLD

Woman In Gold (2015)
Director: Simon Curtis
Cast: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Katie Holmes, Daniel Bruhl

I didn't know anything about the movie. It's in the the list of the movies to chose from (on board) during my long flight to NY. But it was on my way back to Incheon (from NY) that I eagerly played and saw it after gathering some information about the non-fictional story from which the movie was based. The fact that Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds are lead cast also help tickle my interest to see it.

This David-and-Goliath-type movie about a woman (Helen Mirren) who seeks justice for her family who suffered under the Nazis during the Holocaust. She's most keen on retrieving some precious paintings, particularly the "Woman In Gold," upon knowing through her sister's old letters that their aunt, who's the model of the woman in gold, specifies in her will that she'll inherit the paintings. She and her lawyer (Ryan Reynolds) have to face obstacles in this journey.

I really don't understand some critics' note that the movie offers no surprises. In my opinion, how can there be surprises when the narrative is based on a real event? The movie is not without flaw. There are lapses in the script. Editing is forgivable. But, I don't have negative things to say about Helen Mirren's performance. Ryan Reynolds needs a little improvement. But, overall, the movie is very entertaining.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: July 26, 2015

Movie No. 37 (2015): ILO ILO

Ilo Ilo (2013)
Director: Anthony Chen
Cast: Chen Tian Wen, Yeo Yann Yann, Koh Jia Ler, Angeli Bayani
In Chinese and Tagalog, with English subtitles

The director's autobiographical of his coming of age is an intimate look at a typical working class Singaporean family. The man of the house loses his job; the wife, who is pregnant with their second child, is unaware. The pre-adolescent son is pre-occupied with the pains of growing up practically alone because his parents are seldom home. So, comes the househelp, a domestic from the Philippines.

The characters and the things they do are very interesting, which make the narrative rich. The man of the house loses his job because the glass he sells easily breaks. He gambles his savings in the stock market and loses. The series of events in the movie take place during the Asian Crisis in 1997. The wife's main work at the time, because she is pregnant, is typing termination letters for her co-workers. She attends seminars about get-rich-quick schemes, which turns out to be scam. One of the son's pre-occupations is finding patterns in the winning lottery numbers. The house help moonlights as hairdresser during her day-off. So, every character cares about money. In the backdrop is the Asian Crisis.

The coming of house help mirrors the foreign labor force that locals of Singapore find threatening. There's one scene when the wife becomes offended when the house help, wearing the old dress she gave her, comes to school in her place to attend to the son's case at the principal's office. 

Everything about the movie is simple but meticulously crafted. The screenplay is rich in characterization and symbolism. The hand-held camera projects a cinematography that makes every scene intimate. The editing is masterful. No wonder this won Best First Feature at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 23, 2015 
(on Netflix, in New York)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Movie No. 36 (2015): AMADEUS

Amadeus (1984)
Director: Milos Forman
Cast: F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce

I remember seeing the movie in late 1990's on VHS. I remember the impression it left on me. On second viewing of this movie in full, I'm still impressed with its cinematic exploits.In fact, it's quite better this time. The movie itself is both artful and entertaining, probably one of the best movie ever made.

The film, based on a Broadway play, is a re-imagining the life, fame, and death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on the point of view of an aging royal composer Antonio Salieri who both admires and envies Mozart's God-given genius.

Both Abraham (as Salieri) and Hulce (as Mozart) did an excellent portrayal of their respective roles. However, it was Abraham's villainous take on Salieri that was favored by Academy voters. The film also won seven other Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director for Milos Forman. The art direction and costume were grand, and the cinematography gave the feel of the period when the events supposedly happened. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 18, 2015

Movie No. 35 (2015): CINDERELLA

Cinderella (2015)
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Imelda Stautorn, Lily James

Saw this film while aboard a flight to New York's JFK.

Of course everyone knows the tale of Cinderella. So, there's no need for a synopsis. What is so noticeable about the film is the grand production design, particularly the interiors of the palace. But Kenneth Branagh's treatment of the narrative is not to be ignored. The use of  'courage and kindness' as the centerpiece of the narrative works quite (magically) well. Cate Blanchett's excellent job as the scheming stepmother does not unnecessarily steal the show; her wonderful performance is complementary to the age-old tale. Lily James's Cinderella is charming, easily likeable.

It's a good thing the movie does not ride into the bandwagon of what seems to be norm for this kind of movie - the 3D craze. It's a traditional movie with necessary special effects. So, the main point of this version is not overshadowed by the technical craze. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: July 18, 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Movie No. 34 (2015): THE MAZE RUNNER

The Maze Runner (2014)
Director: Wes Ball
Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Will Poulter, Ki Hong Lee

Movies that have setting in a dystopian realm don't impress me most of the time. The Maze Runner was one of the movies showing on board on my way to New York from Incheon. Most of the other movies to choose from were uninteresting. I was intrigued so I gave it a try. And it really made my long flight shorter by almost two hours.

The premise of the movie is interesting. The movie tells of a boy (Thomas) who wakes up in a strange place that seems to be isolated from the rest of the world by an enormous maze. A group of  boys his age have been trapped in that place. He has no memory of himself except for an organization called WIKD (or Wicked). There, he and the other boys agree to enter the maze, which opens and closes occasionally, despite violent disputes, to find clues that might help them escape from their 'prison.' 

This is not the best of the genre. However, it has all the cinematic elements of a decent film. It has no pretensions. It avoided the boy-girl romance, despite the presence of an only girl character, that may just unnecessary drag the narrative. The strong acting performances of practically every cast are conspicuous.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: July 18, 2015

Sunday, July 12, 2015


The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)
Director: John Madden
Cast: Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Richard Gere, Bill Nighy

The original movie concluded with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel fully booked with long-term guests who have their own reasons and back stories that are interesting. In this sequel, the owner, Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel), dreams and working on an expansion - The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - as he steals time from his preparations for a wedding, his wedding with the love of his life. 

Watching this sequel, I don't feel the same excitement as I felt watching the original movie. It's not that bad at all. It's the kind that won't make you miss anything between catnaps. Probably, it's the ever-reliable and effortless performances of the veteran actors in the cast. The are lots of almost perfect shots that really capture the mysticism of India. The music is well placed. While the screenplay has some flaws, the movie's overall feel is positive.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: July 12, 2015

Friday, June 12, 2015

Movie No. 32 (2015): A TIME FOR DRUNKEN HORSES

A Time For Drunken Horses (2000)
Director: Bahman Ghobadi
Cast: Ayoub Ahmadi, Ameneh Ekhtiar-Dini, Medi Ekhtiar-Dini
In Kurdish, with English Subtitles

The following is an except from Roger Ebert's review of the movie in 2000:

 "A Time for Drunken Horses" supplies faces to go with news stories about the Kurdish peoples of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, people whose lands to this day are protected against Saddam Hussein's force by a no-fly zone enforced by the United States. Why Hussein or anyone else would feel threatened by these isolated and desperate ly poor people is an enigma, but the movie is not about politics. It is about survival.

My take on the movie: 

I didn't know about the piece of land inhabited by Kurdish peoples being protected against Saddam, Hussein's force. I didn't see that in the movie. I'm only interested in the almost documentary-style of presenting the story of children who will do anything, and against the harsh environment (cold winter, dangerous landmines, sporadic gunfire near the border) where they live, to survive, in an isolated place where regulation against child labor is irrelevant. At some point I was reminded of a scene in The Bicycle Thieves (one of the greatest films ever made). The movie is visually arresting. Acting performances of important characters are raw and believable. The ending is uncertain, but something to think about.

There are two metaphors presented in the movie. One is the deformed body of 15-year-old dwarf who is an important character. This might be the metaphor for stalled and practically hopeless existence of the people in that piece of protected land. The other is the drunken horses. The horses are actually mules that are used in smuggling activities of the peoples of the land. These people cross the border where they can sell tyres and other items for a better price. They use these literally drunken horses, that are fed with wine-stained water, to transport the goods, not minding the perils of the journey to a destination where there's a war.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: June 12, 2015

Movie No. 31 (2015): MAYBE THIS TIME

Maybe This Time (2014)
Director: Jerry Lopez Sineneng
Cast: Coco Martin, Sarah Geronimo, Shamaine Buencamino, Ruffa Gutierrez

I saw this on TV, too.

This is a romcom from Star Cinema. Therefore, it must have followed a tiring formula: boy and girl meet, boy and girl get separated mostly by unbelievable and unoriginal circumstances (the only conflict), boy and girl meet again, happy ending. And the viewing public always buys that. Period.

But, it's not all that bad. Despite the used up storyline, the script is fluid. The shots are gorgeous. Sarah Geronimo is charming although not really believable in the ways she's supposedly show the character she plays is hurting and longing. Coco Martin has proven he's an actor, but mostly in his roles in Indie movies. In this movie, however, he's miscast; an indication that his artistry has limits. But who cares. It's a no-brainer that Star Cinema only banks on the popularity of both Sarah Geronimo and Coco Martin.

By the way, Ruffa Gutierrez is irritating. She's been in the industry for while now, but, still, she can't act.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: May 24, 2015

Movie No. 30 (2015): D2: THE MIGHTY DUCKS

D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994)
Director: Sam Weisman
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Joshua Jackson

What's it all about? Teamwork and sportsmanship. This Disney-produced movie might have appealed to young audience when it was released in 1994, but this generation of young audience might find it too contrived and cliched or corny. D2 is a sequel. I saw the first in 1992 or 1993. I remembered enjoying it, but not really liking it. I was not so eager to see this sequel when it was released. But two weeks ago, I saw this movie playing on local TV. I paid attention while cleaning my room. This movie is the kind that doesn't need your complete attention. But I endured it until end credits scrolled up. What happened was predictable. In fact, the conflict is so used up.

Teamwork and sportsmanship. Okay, I get it. But the ideas thrown into crafting the movie were everything but fresh.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: May 24, 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Movie No. 29 (2015): CORN ISLAND

Corn Island (2014)
Director: George Ovashvili
Cast: Ilyas Salman, Mariam Buturishvili
In Russian, Georgian, and Abkhaz, with English subtitles

I see the film as almost a manifesto of hard work. The way the narrative unfolds is high art. This is traditional cinema at its best. 

The dialogue is scant, but the visual presentation of an almost idyllic setting is marred by occasional sound of gunfire and patrolling soldiers passing by. The camera never leaves the Corn Island, a small piece of arable land floating in the river that separates two small countries in conflict, Georgia and Abkhaz. At the start of the movie, we see a conquest, where an old man is seen discovering the almond-shaped land. He tests the soil using his four senses: sight, scent, taste, and feel. Then during rest of the film's running time, we see hard work documented as the old man, with the assistance of his obedient daughter in the brink of womanhood, painstakingly transforms the island into an agricultural feat. The film ends in the same way it opens. I don't want to make details at this point.

The film is for the patient. I have to give myself a pat on the shoulder for having finished the movie without having to wrestle with drowse or slumber. Ironically, it aroused my interest, which kept me wide awake in awe. For the record, blockbuster, action- and effects-loaded movies almost always effortlessly send mo to sleep because they fail to tickle my imagination. Corn Island, despite its being almost a silent film is a resounding triumph of "pure" cinema.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 21, 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015

Movie No. 28 (2015): CALVARY

Calvary (2014)
Director: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Brendan Gleeson

The first scene shows a priest in a confessional listening to a parishioner who relates he was sexually abused by a now-dead priest. This sets the tone of the narrative. The "confession" concludes with the parishioner threatening to kill this priest  (with whom he shares his story) the following Sunday. The priest in the confessional recognizes the parishioner's voice. The audience don't. This threat makes the movie captivating and suspenseful.

The days before Sunday, the priest attends to his routine priestly duties. We get to met an intricate set of characters. I imagine these characters as microcosm of the "fallen society." The priest is good, but he has to live with the stigma that priests are pedophiles while he remains loyal to his faith and service. This is translated very well in the movie's narrative using effectively the language and grammar of cinema. Brendan Gleeson's performance is assured, sincere, and monumental. The cinematography is itself a "character," i.e., something the movie can't do without.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 21, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

Movie No. 27 (2015): AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
Director: Joss Whedon
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Chris Evans. Chris Hemsworth, Paul Bettany

The plot is simple. The Avengers (will) save the planet from Ultron's destructive hands. This simple plot is seen as great opportunity to showcase special effects and fantastic action sequences because there's nothing to explore with that simple plot. In this aspect, the film triumphs. But honestly, it's in the nitty-gritty details that, in my opinion, the movie fails. Die-hard fans of this franchise are either so forgiving or just oblivious because all they're concerned about is to be entertained by sequences they already have ideas about. I'm not a fan. So, when I saw the movie I looked at the movie as a movie like nothing I knew about when I entered the theater. And I saw a lot of inconsistencies and editing loopholes. The script lulled me to sleep at some instances because sequences became so uninteresting. While destruction left and right were shown, I didn't see a single death, except of course that which became of one of the avengers. And it's annoying that one or two scenes showcased how one Avenger tried to save just one man from falling. Can those people breath well in the clouds? Well, I'm not sure if in the comic book certain laws of physics were defied. 

Well, honestly, I almost walked out and wished I should have stayed at home and slept.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: April 25, 2015

Movie No. 26 (2015): THE GUEST

The Guest (2014)
Director: Adam Wingard
Cast: Dan Stevens, Maika Monroe

The Guest uses well the typical formula of a Hollywood film that's really meant to entertain. The result is a believable amalgam of mystery, gore, sci-fi, action, and almost horror genres. There's even the subtle coming-of-age tale of a minor but integral character. Dan Stevens as 'the guest' delivers a cunning performance that will never be forgotten for the next few years.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: April 3, 2015

Friday, April 3, 2015

Movie No. 25 (2015): THE DROP

The Drop (2014)
Director: Michael R. Roskam
Cast: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini

More than halfway through the film I felt like I was reading a Dennis Lehane book. Then, in the end, paying attention to end credits scrolling up, I was surprised to find that the film was indeed written by Dennis Lehane. And he based from his book I never knew existed.

It seems that this crime drama's main character is the collective relationship of people in that Brooklyn neighborhood, which is the setting of the movie. All other characters are just part of the tapestry of evil intentions, schemes, guilt, and secrets. 

The titular "drop" refers to drop boxes at Brooklyn bars through which dirty money for a local gangster are temporarily held for pick up later. But when a robbery at one bar tended by Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) goes awry, Bod finds himself in an investigation that digs into the neighborhood's ugly past.

What I like most about the film is on how the writing builds up character and tension slowly, making the twist really unexpected and compelling. Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, and Noomi Rapace constitute a commendable ensemble performance. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 2, 2015

Movie No. 24 (2015): NINJA PARTY

Ninja Party (2015)
Director: Jim Libiran
Cast: Annicka Dolonius, Bea Galvez, Teresa Loyzaga, Odette Khan

This film competed in the Sinag Maynila Film Festival two weeks ago. Synopses describe it as a coming of age film of senior high school students from a Catholic-run, all-girls school. It's very controversial in a way that these supposedly rich school girls get preoccupied with organizing a masked orgy with boys from other high schools - their version of soiree after the supposedly clean soiree was cancelled. Well, this may have been based on some rare reality, and that's acceptable. Trouble is the characterization that sets the girls' preoccupation is wanting despite a couple of the newbie actresses showing acceptable acting. Of course Teresa Loyzaga and Odette Khan don't disappoint. While the story is interesting, the writing seems unsure of where to take it. Production design is a disaster. For example: I'm not convinced that these girls come from rich families when their houses' interiors look like boarding houses with cheap bedding and toilets. The school which is supposedly exclusive for rich girls doesn't even have a decent auditorium. And the school looks like a public school with cheap furniture.

Rating: 1.5/4.0

Date seen: March 22, 2015