Sunday, January 31, 2016

Movie No. 11 (2016): TOKYO SONATA

Tokyo Sonata (2008)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyoko Koizumi, Yu Koyanagi, Kai Inowaki
In Japanese, with English subtitles

An ordinary household of four (a couple and their two teenage sons) in Tokyo is being threatened to crumble when the father keeps from his family his being laid off from his job. Every other member of the household has his or her share of secrets that may be contributory to the shattering of the family. The script is basically anchored on these, resulting in a narrative that's unusual, but in a good way. The movie is almost tragic, save for the saving grace toward the film's conclusion. That final scene is unforgettable. Applause! Applause!

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 31, 2016


A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2015)
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi
In Persian, with English subtitles

This is one vampire movie that's much different that the vampire movies that had hit the screen. For one, it's Iranian. Shot in black and white, it looks like a classic already, reminiscent of beautifully shot western movies of the 40s and 50s. The surreal and dreamlike landscape, the calculated performances, and well-placed score blend well to create an unforgettable viewing experience.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 31, 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Movie No. 9 (2016): THE WAVE

The Wave (a.k.a. Bolgen)
Director: Roar Uthaug
Cast: Kritoffer Joner, Thomas Bo Larsen, Ane Dahl Torp
In Norwegian, with English subtitles

This is a disaster movie, Norwegian style. It follows the formula of the genre, making it predictable. But, its capability to capture the interest of the audience is easily sustained until the end. Although it's not the only disaster movie whose scope is local, the myopic scope makes the movie more focused. 

More importantly, it's thrilling.

This is Norway's entry to the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: January 24, 2016

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Movie No. 8 (2016): WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE

When Marnie Was There (2014)
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
An animated film, in Japanese, with English subtitles

An introvert, adolescent girl (Anna) is sent by her foster mother to a sleepy, coastal town in Hokkaido for clean to improve her health. There, Anna becomes fascinated by a seemingly abandoned mansion in the marsh and meets an blonde girl about her age (Marnie) who lives there. Marnie may or may not be real. There she also meets other interesting characters that makes her discover her family's history. 

The overall experience in watching the movie is akin to seeing a movie adapted from a novel that could have been written by Charles Dickens.

What makes Studio Ghibli animated films different (in a good way) is its making Japanese culture and family relations at the centerpiece, sometimes interspersed, in the narrative. The traditional animation and subtle colors make the movie less strenuous to the eyes than the blockbuster animated movies in Hollywood. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 17, 2016

Movie No. 7 (2016): BRIDGE OF SPIES

Bridge of Spies (2015)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan

The movie is based on actual events that happened during the Cold War and we're pretty much aware of how it'll end. It opens with an alleged Russian spy is arrested in New York. Later, an American spy gets caught in Russia and an American student doing his PhD dissertation in Germany also gets detained after being accused of espionage. The end, as we all know, is the exchange of the prisoners on the Glienicke Bridge. But, the series of events leading to the conclusion are the focus of the narrative. 

The script, masterful mind of Steven Spielberg, and the calculated performances of Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance are able to sustain the tension and thrill which are requisite of a movie of this genre. The always reliable Janusz Kaminski's cinematography presents an excellent capture of the milieu. I don't care about the historical accuracy of the movie. I only care about the fact that it's one of the best this year and, probably, among Spielberg's greatest works.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 17, 2016

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Movie No. 6 (2016): BROOKLYN

Brooklyn (2015)
Director: John Crowley
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent

Based on Colm Toibin's novel, the story about an Irish immigrant, Eilis Lacey, in 1950s Brooklyn in the film adaptation is straightforward. Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is a character who is not complicated: she doesn't have have any baggage. All she wants is a better life. With no baggage attached to a main protagonist in a movie is like a presage for a boring narrative, with nothing much to explore. But, the movie simple avoids that possible disaster. Instead, it presents a period romantic drama that has all the elements of a bestselling romance novels without being (too) saccharine, while taking a closer look at the immigrant experience in Brooklyn.

One thing noticeable is the costume design. Another is the art direction. But all of these can be easily overshadowed by Ronan's textured performance. It doesn't happen though. And it's a good thing.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 10, 2016

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Movie No. 5 (2016): 45 YEARS

45 Years (2016)
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
Director: Andrew Haigh

Kate and Geoff have been married for 45 years. In the midst of preparations for the anniversary party, Geoff receives a letter informing him about the finding of the body of his first love (Katya), preserved in the glaciers of a Swiss mountain. Katya fell in a fissure while hiking with Geoff in the mountain. She was never found. That was more than 50 years ago.

The news has unexpected effect on Geoff; consequently, it affects Kate, too. This effect is basically what the movie offers to present, resulting in a character study that's so intimate and compelling. The question I had in mind learning about the content of the letter and how it initially affected the couple was: How will it affect the planned celebration? Well, the script has taken care of that effectively.

Charlotte Rampling's performance is subtle, yet powerful. She's best in scenes where she's alone, thinking, brooding. Her face says it all. This performance is complemented by Tom Courtenay's nuanced performance. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 9, 2015

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Movie No. 4 (2016): LABYRINTH OF LIES

Labyrinth of Lies (2015)
Director: Giulio Ricciarelli
Cast: Alexander Fehling, Andre Szymanski, Johannes Krisch
In German, with English subtitles

The milieu is Germany, more or less 20 years after the fall of Hitler. People seem to have moved on from the dark phase of their nation's history. But a chance encounter between a former Auschwitz prisoner and his torturer in the camp brings about old wounds that a journalist and neophyte prosecution lawyer pick up. Thus, begins the investigation of what really happened in the camp because ordinary people, it seems, have never heard of Auschwitz, let alone the atrocities committed there by Nazi soldiers some of which are unpunished and have resumed back to ordinary living. And there's cover up along the way of search for the truth. This is the focus of the narrative. 

The movie sustains the intrigue and tension that the script builds up at the start through a certain point after the last quarter of the movie's running time. I'm thinking that it could have ended somewhere before where it actually ended. Scenes are all over the place near the conclusion. It still ends up well, though. However, there are excesses that need to be edited out. For example: in my opinion, the romance subplot may not be unnecessary. But I have to commend the movie for effectively using dialogues to create perfect images instead of using flashback scenes.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: January 3, 2016

Movie No. 3 (2016): ANOMALISA

Anomalisa (2015)
Director: Charlie Kaufman / Duke Johnson
Voice Cast: David Thewlis, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Michael Stone travels to Cincinnati, Ohio to speak in a conference related to his bestselling book about the art of customer service called "How May I Help You Help Them." As soon as he lands, we'll notice that everyone speaks the same voice. And so, we are being prepped for a world that's monotonous, which makes us understand the boredom that easily seeps in to Michael's mood. But, from this monotony, he unexpectedly hears an anomaly (i.e., a completely different voice) from the hallway of the hotel while he's in the bathroom. He rushes out to find the girl (Lisa) who owns the voice. This is the turning point of the narrative. It gets (achingly) interesting from there as we witness Michael's humanity and Lisa as "an anomaly" in the movie's milieu in a matter of one day.

The movie is sad, but there are some comic moments to break the monotony. The use of stop-motion animation is fantastic as it perfectly conveys the characters' inner emotions through their mostly blank faces. The Charlie Kaufman touch us easily evident in the movie, from the plot to absurd circumstances and peculiar characters.

By the way, the movie is R-rated for some valid reasons, which is rare for animated films in Hollywood. Therefore, kids should stay away from this movie.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 3, 2016

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Movie No. 2 (2016): MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Mad Max: Fury Road
Director: George Miller
Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron

I'm not going to start with what the story (this time) is about. I can't contain my excitement to list down some of the reasons why I like the movie so much. 

The movie, in one word, is spectacular. And when I say spectacular, I'm not just referring to the stunning cinematography, practical special effects, well-choreographed action and chase scenes, and near-perfect editing. It's also a celebration of sound and score. But to top it all, it's very rare that in an action movie you see a fluid narrative, a dramatic interlude that's not contrived, an intelligent script, and most importantly, competent characterization and performances. The only regret I have for this movie is that I missed the chance to see on big screen, let alone IMAX.

There's one subplot that reminds me of The Trip To Bountiful. The moment that scene popped in my head, I was in complete awe. 

This movie is indeed a celebration of sight and sound.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 2, 2016

Movie No. 1 (2016): SPOTLIGHT

Spotlight (2015)
Director: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci

The film appears like a video demonstration on a journalism course, which, is not a bad thing. The director's decision to use do it this way, coupled with a narrative whose tension is sustained until the end, makes the movie a great piece of entertainment. But, is this a great movie? This movie is good. But, great? Maybe, maybe not.

In the movie, the "Spotlight" team of Boston Globe investigates the sexual abuses committed by Catholic priests in Boston to pre-pubescent boys. Sounds like a good milieu. I have no problem with the flow of the narrative. The performances are great. But, I just can't figure what I'm looking for to be convinced that this movie is indeed the front runner in this year's Academy Awards. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: January 2, 2016