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)