Friday, January 23, 2015

Movie No. 17 (2015): WILD

Wild (2014)
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee
Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern

The lead character in this movie is appropriately named Cheryl Strayed. She's presented as having led a "wild" existence when her marriage failed and her mother died. So, without any experience in hiking with loaded backpack, she dares the thousand-mile Pacific Crest Trail, facing in the process, the perils and pleasures of a one woman's adventure that's supposedly to cleanse and heal her troubled being.

Reese Witherspoon's gutsy performance spectacularly captures the internal landscape in Cheryl Strayed that contrasts the picturesque landscape of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: January 22, 2105

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Movie No.16 (2015): THE BOXTROLLS

The Boxtrolls (2014)
Director: Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable
Animated movie, featuring the voices of Ben Kingsley, Elle Fanning, Isaac Hempstead-Wright

Boxtrolls are a family of monster-looking creatures that gather junks they bring into their cavernous home just under Cheesebridge, the town above. The movie is centered on Archibald Snatcher's brainwashing the Cheesebridge people that the Boxtrolls snatch and eat babies; his basis was the incident that a baby was taken away by the Boxtrolls. But this baby, now a grown-up, thinks he is one of the Boxtrolls because these monster-looking creatures have raised him. The conflict is Snatcher's threat to destroy the Boxtrolls and their home in exchange of white hat.

The story is not really original but it works well for this animated movie. The animation, because of the nature of the characters, doesn't really look gorgeous. In fact, it's morbid and some scenes are disgusting. But, I guess, that's the way it should be. Despite all these, watching The Boxtrolls is a different but rewarding experience.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: January 22, 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Movie No. 15 (2015): AMERICAN SNIPER

American Sniper (2014)
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller

The indication of an outstanding performance by an actor is when he completely disappears in the character. Bradley Cooper does just that and he's consistently into the Chris Kyle character. Chris Kyle was the greatest sniper in US Military. The movie alternately presents his exploits to protect his brothers-in-arms in Iraq during his four tour of duty and his family life back home in the US. The movie achieves in showing the psyche of someone who's been addicted to war, which was also the thesis of The Hurt Locker.
Rating: 3.5/4.0
Date seen: January 17, 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Movie No. 14 (2015): THE IMITATION GAME

The Imitation Game (2014)
Director: Morten Tyldum
Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Mark Strong

The movie, loosely based on the biography of Alan Turing, presents the drama and tension unfolding during which Turing and his team mates try ans successfully break Hitler's Enigma code to help the Allies during the second world war. A parallel story explores Turing's personal life and relationships as teenager through the end of the war when he's prosecuted for homosexuality.

While the movie is not historically accurate, according to some, it still delivers as a powerful entertainment and a cinematic tribute to the important contribution of Alan Turing to efforts to shorten or end the war. Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a performance of a lifetime. Keira Knightley and the rest of cast are awesome, too. The accurate costume design and a cinematography that transports the audience to that time in history where the movie is set simply make a movie a cinematic feast.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 16, 2015

Movie No. 13 (2015): LEVIATHAN

Leviathan (2014)
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast: Alexei Serebriakova, Elena Liadova, Roman Madianov
In Russian, with English subtitles

In a beautiful coastal town in northern Russia, the town mayor wants a modest property on a prime real estate owned by Kolya, a car mechanic who lives in a house on the property with his young wife and his son from previous marriage. When Kolya refuses the compulsory purchase order, the mayor starts harassing him. But Kolya, with the help of his friend, a lawyer from Moscow, fights the mayor and the organized corruption in the town government.

This premise suggests a story that's been used in many previous movies. But this contemporary retelling of the Book of Job has the same intensity as the Terry Malloy's struggles to stand up to his corrupt union bosses in On The Waterfront; it also has the well-placed Tarkovskian touch which is obvious in the film's opening and final scenes and in scenes that are deliberately made slow. 

As of this writing, this movie  has already won the Golden Globes for Best Foreign-Language Film and got nominated in the same category at the 87th Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 15, 2015

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Movie No. 12 (2015): BIRDMAN (Or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Birdman (or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
Director: Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone

I don't know how and where to start. I don't even want to give a synopsis of this movie. The movie really pushed my brain cells to work lest I'd be lost in its narrative. I had to pay attention to the dialog. I had to pay attention to every scene, which was a challenge at the early part of the movie because I was at a loss, not knowing if what I saw really happened. I only had a better grasp of the movie upon realizing that some of the scenes only existed in the mind of Riggan, a Broadway actor, who's the main protagonist in this movie. He's schizophrenic, which posed another challenge (i.e., when to know if a scene were imagined or not).

Riggan is a mess when not on stage giving life to his character. And when he's on stage, he's perfect. He's troubled by his superhero past. He tries to reconnect with his family. Some of the dizzying scenes of labyrinthine corridors of the backstage leading to the stage, shot using a hand-held camera, in my opinion, are suggestive of Riggan's troubled psyche. 

The ending is a puzzle. I have two possible interpretations (or may be more). I can be wrong. However, either of these interpretations suggests a strong and memorable ending. But I'm quite more convinced with that interpretation which has something to do with what Riggan wants to see in his head regardless of whether 'that ending' really happens or not.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 11, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015

Movie No. 11 (2015): FORCE MAJEURE

Force Majeure (2014)
Director: Rubern Ostlund
Cast: Johannes Bah Kuhnke, Lisa Loven Kongsli
In Swedish and English, with English subtitles

A psychodrama or a character study, this movie can be both. And as such, it never fails to stir and create sustained tension. In the movie, an obviously rich family (husband, wife, and two preteen children) spend a five-day ski holiday in an expensive mountain resort. The bond of what seems to be model family gets threatened when a harmless avalanche occurs without warning on the second day while everyone is having lunch. When the avalanche is over, no one gets hurt, but a spur-of-the-moment decision made as everyone panics during the avalanche will shake the family's bond to its core. This takes most of the movie's running time.The movie is an examination of human behavior during unguarded moments and how such behavior can change lives forever. That avalanche is an excellent metaphoric stimulus. The script is crisp and the performances are on the ball.

I'll take that last scene as a tribute to Luis Bunuel's "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie." Yes, I get it.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 9, 2015

Movie No. 10 (2015): WHIPLASH

Whiplash (2014)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons

The movie is about young and ambitious jazz drummer and his devilishly sadistic mentor who pushes his students beyond their capability. The structure of the film is familiar to those of sports movies and similarly-themed movies. Despite this, however, the movie resonates like a psychological thriller. This is where it succeeds. While the lead actor does perform very well as an obsessive dreamer, the supporting outing of J.K. Simmons as the mentor is truly unforgettable. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 9, 2015

Movie No. 9 (2015): ENGLISH ONLY, PLEASE

English Only, Please (2014)
Director: Dan Villegas
Cast: Jennylyn Mercado, Derek Ramsay, Cai Cortez
In Tagalog and English

A business analyst (Julian) from New York flies to the Philippines and hires an English tutor (Tere) to translate from English to Tagalog his upbraiding letter to his Filipina girlfriend who dumped him. Julian still stalks his ex-girlfriend, who now stays in Manila; Tere chases his ex-boyfriend, showers him with expensive gifts, although their relationship at present is reduced to just 'friends with benefits." And so Julian and Tere, as bond develops between them (it's slow, anyway), become familiar with each other - so comfortable that their terms of endearment for each other are Tanga One and Tanga Two. Of course, like in most romance comedy, happy ending is expected.

There is really no original innovation in story-telling in this movie. It adopts a rare style that have worked for a few movies; it does work well, too, in this movie. The formulaic mainstream touch and instances of melodrama almost take a toll and cancel the movie's interesting premise and commendable performances of Jennylyn Mercado, who's very much her character, Tere, and of Derek Ramsay as Julian. The movie is about these 'foolish hearts' as it is also about words or word play. The inter-text graphics are a welcome ingredient to make this movie even more enjoyable.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: January 8, 2015

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Movie No. 8 (2015): BLACK COAL, THIN ICE

Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014)
Director: Diao Yinan
Cast: Fan Liao, Gwei Lunmei
In Chinese, with English subtitles

An ex-cop and his partner investigates a series of murders identical to the murder they were solving five years earlier that caused to end their police career. 

The wintry industrial backdrop is used effectively in the movie to convey coldness and trickiness of the weather. The noir0like treatment is excellently executed. And the writing and editing are simply contributory to coming up with a hallucinatory thriller.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 4, 2015

Movie No. 7 (2015): JAUJA

Jauja (2014)
Director: Lisandro Alonso
Cast: Viggo Mortensen
In Spanish and Danish, with English subtitles

The film begins with showing sporadic images of a Danish captain and her teenaged daughter in one frame and of three other soldiers in different states of busyness in separate cramped frames. A little later is the revelation that they are all in one group, in a rocky shore; they hold captive a young Spanish soldier. Then the teenaged daughter runs away with the Spanish soldier into the desert where an infamous soldier gone mad is on the loose and where the murderous so-called "coconut heads" thrive. And there's a war going on. And so the captain's search for his daughter begins.

The costumes suggest 19th Century. The war is unnamed. And the unnamed desert is pictured to be vast, mostly flat, but with some rocky slopes at some point.

All of the images appear like framed pictures. Each shot has screen residence time that puts patience to test. They call it slow cinema. These long shots and wide shots, cramped in 4 x 3 frames, are collectively a poetry. And, like in most poetry the meaning is concealed and may be subject to different interpretations. The last few frames of the movie suggest a plunged into a deeper realm. This is either jaw-dropping or head-scratching in disbelief, surprise, or awe.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: January 3, 2015

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Movie No. 6 (2015): A SERIOUS MAN

A Serious Man (2009)
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Sari Lennick, Fred Melamed

Larry Gopnik seeks help from three rabbi to become serious man in the midst of troubling issues: his wife asking for a divorce; his son needs to be disciplined; his daughter steals money from him to save for a nose job; a graduate student attempts to bribe and harass him; someone tries sabotages his chance for tenure in the university;  his brother is unemployed and lives with his family; a neighbor steals a piece of his land; another neighbor sunbathes in the nude. Will he find answer? 

The movie's comedy is serious and hard to digest since it suggests and questions issues related to religion: religious hypocrisy, tradition over faith, God being unforgiving, etc.

It is comedy. It is bleak. It is serious. It is worth watching.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 3, 2015

Friday, January 2, 2015

Movie No. 5 (2015): PLENTY

Plenty (1985)
Director: Fred Schepisi
Cast: Meryl Streep, Sam Neill, John Gielgud , Charles Dance, Tracey Ullmann. Sting

In this beautifully shot drama, Meryl Streep is Susan, a young British who struggles to reintegrate herself into post-war England after successfully working underground for the French Resistance in Nazi-occupied France during World War II. Her stubborn idealism only causes her disappointments that affects her relationships and work. She would settle for nothing less; that's her problem.

Meryl Streep delivered a performance of a lifetime. She effortlessly became  a British idealist in the film. The movie was released during the same year Out of Africa was shown in US theaters. Meryl Streep got a Best Actress nomination from the Academy Awards for Out of Africa, which had wider distribution than Plenty. If double nominations were allowed in Oscars, she might just be nominated for Plenty, too. For me, her performance in Plenty is equally praise-worthy, if not better than in Out of Africa. The supporting cast were equally excellent. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen:
January 2, 2015

Movie No. 4 (2015): WHITE WEDDING

White Wedding (2009)
Director: Jann Turner
Cast: Kenneth Nkosi, Jodie Whittaker, Rapulana Seiphemo
In Afrikaan, Setswana, and English, with English subtitles

Elvis is going from Johannesburg to Cape Town, which is 1800 kilometers away, for his wedding. But his first stop is Durban, which is not far, to meet his best friend, who will drive him to Cape Town. His best friend is no-show at the bus station. Fast forward: they meet, anyway, and the long road trip begins. Along the way, unexpected things happen, as expected: confusing road signs, a white English tourist hitch-hiker, a goat named George, the fluctuating phone signals, a minor car crash, a bar full of white people, et cetera. The bride is becoming impatient; the trip is taking too long. An ex-boyfriend shows up. The whole town prepares for the wedding. And the groom is still in transit, lost.

I think I enjoyed the romance-comedy setting, although, in my opinion, the movie is more of the dissection of the dynamics of friendship and relationships, which is common to road-trip movies. I'm not sure if the post-Apartheid tension inserted in the narrative is contrived or contributory to making the movie socially relevant.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: January 2, 2105

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Movie No. 3 (2015): LESSON OF THE EVIL

Lesson of the Evil (2012)
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Hideaki Ito
In Japanese, with English subtitles

In this movie, a charismatic and popular high school teacher puts into action his way of disciplining students who are involved in rampant cheating and bullying. And it's messy.

This movie is a thriller or a horror. Either way it's sick and scary, but well-executed, except for the orchestration of the "punishment," which takes almost 1/3 of the movie's running time. The gruesome scenes may not be for everyone. Mack The Knife playing in the background during a crucial point in the narrative is brilliant.

The ending suggests a sequel.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: January 1, 2015


The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Tom Wilkinson

Madam D. is murdered. She leaves a huge fortune that her family, extended family, and a hotel concierge hope to partake in her will. Part of this fortune is a priceless from the Renaissance Period, which gets stolen. The movie is about the comedic adventures of the concierge and his protegee in search of their place between two world wars, the confidence games of those involved in murder play, and the changing states of The Grand Budapest Hotel.

This is a kind of comedy with sad undertone only Wes Anderson can deliver.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 1, 2015

Movie No. 1 (2015): LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON

Like Father, Like Son (2013)
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yoko Maki, Lili Franky
In Japanese, with English subtitles

This is an interesting story about two sons and four parents. However, the movie is centered on Ryota, a successful and workaholic architect. He's rarely home and his wife and six-year-old son (Keita) feel neglected. But the news that his son was switched with another infant, six years ago at the hospital, he's forced to confront the issues of parenting.

The movie's success in storytelling is its ability to be as truthful as what can real people feel and do to deal with the unexpected news. It's painful to watch the children having to deal with this, too. In the course of the narrative, we understand Ryota's actions, although we may not necessarily agree with him. The director, Kore-eda, gives no easy answer to the predicament these six people have to face. Come to think of it, is there really a solution that will not leave bitter taste?

Kore-eda is really as master when it comes to dramas involving children and dissection of family relationships when faced with issues.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 1, 2015