Saturday, April 30, 2016


Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Director: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei

A "simple" plan goes awry when one mistakes leads to another, resulting in tragic consequences. While it may remind us of Fargo or A Simple Plan, this movie has its own unique attack on a morality tale of this kind. For example, the non-linear editing does not prevent the fluidity of the narrative. 

The title suggests the narrative flow of the movie. It comes from the Irish saying, "May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead." It suggests race against time to cover the mistakes. Every character is part of the race. The genius of the movie is how the so-called "race" is presented on screen. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 30, 2016

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Movie No. 22 (2016): GOOD BYE LENIN!

Good Bye Lenin! (2003)
Director: Wolgang Becker
Cast: Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sass
In German, with English subtitles

Christiane, a loyal Party member, upon seeing his son, Alex, take part in an anti-Communist rally, the night before The Fall of the Berlin Wall, suffers a heart attack that will bring her to an 8-month coma. She'll miss a lot about the changes in the political landscape and the changes her son Alex and daughter Ariane have to experience and decide to do while she sleeps.

The trick is, when she finally wakes up, Alex and Ariane must keep the changes from their mother for fear of another heart attack that might just be fatal. So, Alex and Ariane must do anything to protect their mother.

This is how I see it. I think the movie suggests that it's possible that, when it comes to matters of the heart and family, ideologies may just be set aside. The coma and waking-up subplots might just be. respectively, an allegory of politically-induced passiveness and delusions of the East Germans. In this way, the script succeeds. It may not be the best movie of this genre, but it certainly delivers more than what's expected.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: April 24, 2016

Movie No. 21 (2016): WELCOME TO ME

Welcome To Me (2015)
Director: Shira Piven
Cast: Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Joan Cusack, Wes Bentley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins

The plot is interesting: Alice, a young woman with borderline personality disorder, wins a lottery - $86 M! What happens next? She stops her medication and buys her way to have her own TV show called Welcome To Me. The idea of the show is outrageous, but the TV network agrees in exchange of $15 M.

Indeed, it's interesting. The idea of the movie itself glued me to my seat until the end of the movie. However, I was clueless about what actually transpired during the entire (almost) 90 minutes of the movie's running time. Was I entertained? Maybe. But, everything went downhill from the part where Alice started the very first episode of the show despite some hilarious and really interesting snippets of the show (and the whole movie). 

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: April 24, 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Voice of the Gulp Generation

While waiting for my turn to pay at the cashier in a convenience store, I looked around and observed the people inside. It was a few minutes before midnight. I was the sixth in the queue. Other than the queue, there were only this group of friends, probably students, near the cold drinks dispenser, sharing delirious superlatives about one presidential candidate. The conversation was akin that of friends who would describe or relive scenes from the a movie that all of them saw. They were so loud that I could hear practically everything that they were talking about. When they mentioned the name of a popular presidential candidate, they got my attention. I eavesdropped. Here's the transcript of their conversation:

Friend 1: How many cups have you bought so far?

Friend 2: I can't remember. But I've been frequenting this convenience store almost everyday since they launched this "Voice of the Gulp Generation Campaign."

Friend 1: And all the time you're choosing that candidate's cup.

Friend 2: Yes.

Friend 3: So, you're just like a flying voter.

Friend 2: I'm just showing my support.

Friend 1: Do you really believe he'll do well if he becomes president?

Friend 2: That what he says. I trust him. My parents like him, too.

Friend 3: But all candidates say that, too.

Friend 2: Yes. But, see who leads in the Voice of Gulp Generation Survey? My candidate. That means other people like him, too.

Friend 1, to Friend 3: Who's your candidate?

Friend 3: I'm not interested. I don't care. I'm not registered.

Friend 1: I haven't decided yet.

Friend 2: Okay, I'll buy you drinks as long as you use my candidate's cups.

Friend 1: Really. Okay, I want two cups. Two flavors.

Friend 3: Buy us drink everyday so your candidate wins this survey.

Friend 2: 'tangina 'nyo, abusado kayo ha. (I didn't translate this. It looks good in this language.)

Then it was my turn at the cashier. 


I got confused. It took me a little while to realize I was supposed to pay for something. I recalled going there to buy water. But, I went straight to the queue instead of getting the bottled water first.

At this point, one of the super friends (Friend 2) was next to me in the queue. I gave up my turn so he could pay for his friends' drinks while I left the queue to get water from the display refrigerator. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Movie No.20 (2016): "12"

"12" (2007)
Director: Nikita Mikhalkov
Cast: Sergey Makovetskiy, Nikita Mickhalkov, Sergey Garmash, Apti Magamaev
In Russian and Chechen, with English subtitles

It's quite obvious that the movie was inspired by Sidney Lumet's great film, 12 Angry Men. Seeing it, one would realize Nikita Mikhalkov's 12 was not a remake. Both film however would show the dramatization of how the 12-man jury reached a verdict and decided the fate of a boy accused of a murder. 

Initial voting reveals only 11 believe that the accused guilty. Then we get to hear the argument of the only person in the jury who believes that the accused is innocent. But a unanimous decision decision is needed to acquit or convict the accused. One by one each justifies his vote. Some tell anecdotes that may or may not be related to the present predicament they're into. One by one some jury change vote, some unsure, some vote just get it over with. But, will they ever reach a unanimous decision?

It is interesting how the movie gives the viewers the current state of contemporary Russian society from the anecdotes and dissenting arguments of the juries in trying to make sense of their stand on whether the accused is guilty or not. The occasional flashback scenes involving the accused and the people he had associated with are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that surely make this movie experience more interesting and exciting. Yes the juries in this film are angry but they're not as angry as those in 12 Angry Men. Maybe because the place where they deliberate is not as claustrophobic as as that in 12 Angry Men. There should be reason why the jury do the deliberation in a school gym, which is wide. The metaphors of the the basketball that get stuck on the ring, the bird that got trapped inside the gym, the old pipes, the piano behind bars, the knife dance, and power outages are well-placed in the movie.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 17, 2016

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Resurrection of Monkey

Monkey was my best friend until his death. That was a few months before a devastating earthquake shook Central Luzon, killing hundreds and isolating Baguio City. A year later Mt. Pinatubo erupted, drowning and displacing lives.

Last night, I met Monkey. I couldn't believe he was alive. But, I wasn't shocked.

We were on a day trip to what was left of Mt. Pinatubo several years after the eruption. On Facebook, I'd seen the scenic lake in the volcano's crater on the background of my online friends' selfies. This made me want to visit the place. Half-asleep inside the van we rented for the trip, I heard a familiar voice coming from outside. Vague at first, but as we drew near our first stop, the voice became louder and more familiar. The voice was of someone who could be endorsing a candidate for an elected post. Then I recognize Monkey's charismatic voice. I knew I couldn't be wrong. I saw him there towering with his 6'1" frame surrounded by locals as he handed campaign leaflets. I couldn't believe it was him. But, I was not shocked. I walked toward the crowd. He saw me; he waived his hand to acknowledge my being there. I stopped. I felt water drops fall  on my face. The soft rain in the midst of solar heat dispersed the crowd. Suddenly, it was just I and Monkey in the rain. He motioned me to follow him as he ran toward a parked SUV. He waited for me before entering the car. 

Inside the car I saw bundles of campaign leaflets. To have found out that the leaflets had pictures of five candidates for president gave me mild shock.

I broke the ice. "Where have you been all these years?"

"Europe. Different places. Then I finally settled in Canada."

"With your mother?"

"Yes. We're both Canadian citizens now."

"How is she?"


I wanted to laugh. He, too, I could sense. We decided to postpone it for later.

"So, what's with the leaflets? You can't even vote here and yet you're doing this."

"I need extra income while I'm on vacation here. One of these guys paid me $1 M and this SUV just for distributing these leaflets to provinces." 

He handed me a leaflet.

"Who printed this?"

"I did."

"Who's ideas are these?"


The leaflets were essentially lampoons that destroy the images of the other candidates, while making one candidate looked ridiculously good. The candidate who paid Monkey had a heavily edited picture, making him look like a mestizo, with a fair skin, which was far from his 'true colors." Under his picture was his name, followed by "President". But the other candidates' pictures were probably shot at their worst angles. Ugly. As ugly as the accusation thrown at them. The candidate's name was also attached to their respective pictures followed by a litany of mudslinging rhetoric. One candidate was described as to have misused the funds intended for the rehabilitation of Baguio City after the quake. Another was accused to have not given up her Canadian Citizenship and for having extra-marital affair with a rich businessman. The other was accused to be clandestinely forging a deal with the Communist rebels to overthrow the government. The other candidate was labelled "nuisance," written after the comma that immediately followed the surname of the candidate.

"You wrote all these?"

"Yes." He said it with pride.

"Where's my best friend? My best friend can't do something like this!"

"I've changed. Your best friend is dead."

"And who do you say are you?"

He said a foreign-sounding name that (now) I can't remember. Then he laughed. Mine was just a giggle which was tentative.

And then I woke up.

I can't believe I can remember most of the details in my dream. 

Today is April 16, 2018. Monkey's birthday, if he's still alive, will be two days from now. 

I guess, I was just too busy to have forgotten April 18 during the last few years. 

Or, maybe I already forgot him. That was long time ago when I saw him alive. He and my mother sent me off at the bus station. I was going back to Manila for my Summer Class. That was January 1990, after Christmas vacation, the last time I saw them alive. 

The following month my mother died of heart attack. 

On April 20 of the same year, Monkey died of cardiac arrest.

In July of that year, Central Luzon was devastated by a killer earthquake. The year after, Mt. Pinatubo erupted after being dormant for more than a hundred years.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Movie No. 19 (2016): SON OF SAUL

Son of Saul (2015)
Director: Laszlo Nemes
Cast: Gehza Rohrig
In Hungarian and German, with English subtitles

Saul is part of a special group of Auschwitz prisoners in-charge of disposing the bodies of gassed Hungarian Jews. The special group's tour of duty runs for a few months after which they will face their own extermination. The film shows the group's clandestine escape plan in action while doing their 'duties." Saul, however, has to yield to an unplanned diversion after witnessing a Jewish boy who survives the gas chamber only to be killed by a Nazi doctor on the operating table. It appears like a fool's errand for Saul to oblige himself to give the boy a proper burial in the midst of inhumane extermination of the Jews in the convoys by the fire or gas chamber. The search for a Rabbi from every convey that arrives, the smuggling of the boy's body, and the escape plan are competently translated into the screen. The use of hand-held camera that is mostly interested in exposing Saul's emotions in close-ups, side-view takes, and even his back, simply enhances the chaos and randomness of this dark episode of human history. I notice the blur in some scenes, the point near the conclusion when the camera simply halts, and the bleakness of practically every scenes, which make me wonder if those are techniques to enhance the storytelling. I guess, I'm right.  The ruggedly woven musical score is so apt to sustain suspense. But, what makes me feel confused or unsure is the ending. This, however, does not discount the fact the the film is so powerful in its execution. I can have many interpretations of the ending but each of this interpretation give a different but powerful ending.

The film won Academy Awards Best Foreign-Language Film in February 2016.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 10, 2016