Saturday, December 31, 2016

Movie No. 95 (2016): LAND OF MINE

Land of Mine (2015)
Director: Martin Zandvliet
Cast: Rolland Moller, Louis Hofmann, Joel Basman, Mikkel Boe Folsgaard
In German and Danish, with English subtitles

The year is 1945. The five-year German occupation of Denmark ends. German troops retreat; they are heading homeward on foot. In the first few minutes of the movie, Danish Army Sergeant Rassmussen is seen venting his rage on two unfortunate Nazi soldiers. But, more unfortunate are a group of very young (teenage) German soldiers who are assigned under Rassmussen's command to neutralize and remove some 45,000 land mines the Germans planted on the beach. 

This movie shows the dynamics of the relationships between the soldiers, and also between the soldiers and the Sergeant as pressure and tension build up due to the nature of their predicament. Some hints of sentimentality are subtly woven into the narrative; however, the movie is focused. 

The movie is a real cliffhanger in most parts. It consistently sustains tension and suspense. The experience seeing it is really rewarding.

The movie makes the short list of nine (9) movies from which the final nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 89th Academy Awards for movies of 2016.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 31, 2016

Movie No. 94 (2016): MUSTANG

Mustang (2015)
Director: Deniz Gamze Erguven
Cast: Gunes Sensoy, Ayberk Pekcan, Bahar Kerimoglu, Burak Yigit
In French, with English subtitles

On their way home from school, five teenage sisters decide to frolic in the beach with their male classmates. Their game, splashing water to each other, seems innocent. But in the eye of a passing neighbor, it's scandalous,therefore not permitted by their culture. The neighbor reports the "scandal" to the girls' grandmother. This results in confiscating of the girls so-called "instruments of corruption" like cellular phones, computers, etc., and turning their rooms into a "prison." 

Time lapses. The girls get bored. One by one they're being married off to men or boys they don't know. That's the culture in this part of the world. But the last two girls refuse to be tied to the tradition and do the impossible.

I see the movie as a manifesto of suppression. It is presented in a way that is provocative. It imparts thrill, and the suspense I feel seeing it is part of the rewarding experience. All the actors give great performances. 

This kind of movie us rare. It will stay with you for quite some time.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 31, 2016

Movie No. 93 (2016): A BETTER TOMORROW

A Better Tomorrow (1986)
Director: John Woo
Cast: Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung, Ti Lung
In Chinese (Cantonese), with English subtitles

This stylish, super-charged action movie is now a classic. It never fails to deliver a gratifying entertainment that I don't see in many too-much-hyped Hollywood blockbusters in the past years. This story of two brother who are on opposite sides of the law may not be original, but it's the expertly woven circumstances thrown into the screenplay that makes it work.

Chow Yun Fat registers on screen like a real star, which, I guess, has made him a household name not only in the region but in the northern and western part of the world as well, 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 31, 2016

Movie No. 92 (2016): HELL OR HIGH WATER

Hell of High Water (2016)
Director: David Mackenzie
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster

I see the movie as a good interpolation of several movies of the genre. This cops and robbers type of movie may not be as the same caliber as Bonnie & Clyde, but the execution of the narrative has similar lasting effect.

Jeff Bridges is excellent. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 31, 2016

Movie No. 91 (2016): SILENCED

Silenced (2011)
Director: Hwang Dong-hyuk
Cast: Gong Yoo, Jung Yu-mi
In Korean, with English subtitles

Kang In-ho is the new art teacher in a school for the deaf in the foggy city of Mujin, far from Seoul, South Korea. There he observes the weird behavior of some students and eventually discovers the dark secrets of the school and the cover-up of authorities. With the help of a human rights activist, Kang In-ho brings the situation to media and trial. But, due to some loopholes of the law and the conspiracy, the accused have been met with light punishment only.

It is said that the story is based on actual events. It ends how it's supposed to end, which may be weak and uncalled for if this is fiction. But, the movie is strong where it's supposed to be strong. It's capability to maintain suspense is one. The fluid script, though not really innovative, is another. The kid actors who play victims are believable (I'm nt sure if they really are deaf or just acting). 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 31, 2016

Movie No. 90 (2016): LAKE TAHOE

Lake Tahoe (2009)
Director: Fernando Eimbcke
Cast: Diego Catano, Juan Carlos Lara III, Daniela Valentine, Yemil Sefami
In Spanish, with English subtitles

This a "one-day-in-the-life-of" kind of movie. Juan, a teenager, in an attempt to escape "something," takes the car his father gave him and drives aimlessly. He accidentally crashes it into a post in the outskirts of town. In the next 45 minutes, we see him search for help. We see him meet eccentric characters: a paranoid, old mechanic and his dog; a punk, teenage mother and her baby; and a Kung-Fu-obsessed teenage auto mechanic. Dealing with these characters makes his day.

Some can easily dismiss the movie as boring because of its minimal dialogue, ironically claustrophobic wide-angle shots, and old school editing. However, this may be exactly what the director wants us to feel. The movie is conspicuously calm. We see characters move as if we're there, observing people come in and out of our chosen frame. The movie chooses to be a situational comedy instead of delving into heavy drama. Knowing the reason for Juan wanting to temporarily escape a present reality makes me think, the makers of the movie could have made a heavy drama instead, but they didn't.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 30, 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

Movie No. 89 (2016): LAKE MUNGO

Lake Mungo (2009)
Director: Joel Anderson
Cast: Talia Zucker, David Pledger, Martin Sharpe

This horror film is a documentary film, or, at least, presented as one. To think this really happened makes the movie even scarier.

It all starts when Alice drowned in a dam while having picnic with her parents and only brother. The death is followed by eerie, ghostly apparitions in the family's house and in video and photographic captures. What makes the story more interesting is the accidental discovery of Alice's dark secrets that eventually leads them to Lake Mungo. 

The director and writer could have opted to use the usual narrative (non-documentary) template. But this decision to use the documentary template makes the movie more interesting and engrossing. The horror is real.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 30, 2016

Movie No. 88 (2016): THE 33

The 33 a.k.a. Los 33 (2015)
Director: Patricia Riggen
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Juliette Binoche, Lou Diamond Phillips, Gabriel Byrne

This is the story of the miraculous rescue of the thirty three miners who got trapped underground when an earthquake struck Chile in 2010.

Seeing the movie, we know how it will end. So, the challenge for the movie is how to keep the audience in suspense and entertained at the same time. The movie, in my opinion, did not fail in such aspect. But then, the decision to use English dialogue, though actors speak with South American accent, is not wise. It's distracting.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: December 26, 2016

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Movie No. 87 (2016): OUR LITTLE SISTER

Our Little Sister a.k.a. Umimachi Diary (2016)
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Haruka Ayase, Kaho, Masami Nagasawa, Suzu Hirose
In Japanese, with English subtitles

Hirokazu Kore-eda is a renowned master at observing family dynamics in a Japanese society, which he effectively exhibits on some of his films. 

Synopsis: Three sisters Sachi, Yoshino, and Chika live together in a large house in the city of Kamakura. When their father, absent from the family home for 15 years, dies, they travel to the countryside for his funeral and meet their shy teenage half-sister. Bonding quickly with the orphaned Suzu, they invite her to live with them. Suzu eagerly agrres, and a new life of joyful discovery begins for the four siblings. - from

This film proves that one can be thrilled watching a movie without plot twists, explosions, chase scenes, horror, and sinister sound effects. Here, Kore-eda uses the plum or plum wine metaphor to describe the family's past and present. Even strolling aimlessly on a beach or secret paths or on secret paths on hills, traversing in a tunnel of cherry blossoms, or observing fireworks on a non-moving boat in the sea, suggest deep-seated emotions of the characters. The characters are so real. Their actions are justified. Even the supporting characters are well utilized to make a smooth narrative flow.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 26, 2016

Movie No. 86 (2016): DIE BEAUTIFUL

Die Beautiful (2016)
Director: Jun Robles Lana
Cast: Paolo Ballesteros, Christian Bables, Joel Torre, Gladys Reyes, Lou Veloso, Albie Casino, Luis Alandy
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Paolo Ballesteros is Patrick/Trisha, a transgender who's disowned by his family. In real life, Paolo Ballesteros, is world famous for his talent on transforming his face into deadringers of famous celebrities (local and international) using make-up. It's no-brainer that the script capitalizes on this. It's expected that at some point in the movie, these transformations shall be exhibited. And as suggested by the title, that point shall be during Trisha's death. Of course, the script takes care of how things lead to that point.

The script, though not really focused, is capable of effectively essaying aspects of Trisha's life as a transgender. Dialogues are realistic. Performances of Paolo Ballesteros, Christian Bables (the best friend), and Joel Torre (as the father) are excellent. The presentation of the funeral wake having turned into a circus or media event reminds me of some scenes in Fellini movies. The non-linear editing, though confusing at some points, has definitely contributed to the experience watching a film as original as Die Beautiful.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 25, 2016

Movie No. 85 (2016): KABISERA

Kabisera (2016)
Directors: Arturo Boy San Agustin & Real Florido
Cast: Nora Aunor, Ricky Davao, Jason Abalos, JC De Vera, Victor Neri, RJ Agustin, Ces Quesada
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

The movie tackles extra-judicial killing. However, it can;t be considered an attack to the present administration since the movie was made last year. The movie was submitted to last year's Metro Manila Film Festival but it failed to make the cut. This year, when selection criteria are revised, Kabisera makes the list.

The only conspicuously good thing that I can mention about the movie is the praiseworthy ensemble acting, with special mention to Nora Aunor. Well, it's been said that you can rely on Nora Aunor's capabilities as actress even in mediocre films. I agree. In my opinion, the movie has some scenes that need to be cut. At the same time, there are scenes that I find wanting. The script is flawed. But despite these shortcomings, the film has still managed to convey its point.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: December 25, 2016

Movie No. 84 (2016): SEKLUSYON

Seklusyon (2016)
Director: Erik Matti
Cast: Neil Ryan Sese, Lou Veloso, Rhedd Bustamante, Ronnie Alonte, Dominic Roque
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

The premise is very simple. Four young deacons are sent to seclusion to face their inner demons before being ordained into priesthood. A faith healer, an angelic child called Anghela, and her guardian, who is a nun, join them in the seclusion upon the order of the bishop. Meanwhile, another priest, hunts Anghela and the nun, suspecting that the duo are devil-sent. The year is 1947.

The movie succeeds in practically all aspects. The cinematography turns scenes sinister when necessary. It also effectively reflects the era. The suggestion that the presence of Anghela in the seclusion forces the deacons to face their inner demons is cleverly executed on screen. Editing in most instances are awesome. The script weaves into the narrative the suggestion that the movie may be interpreted metaphorically. The movie, therefore, can be taken literally or metaphorically. While, for me, it's not an outright horror movie, it still elicit thrill ans chills to the spine, which are necessary for any movie of the genre. However, the metaphor that the movie conveys is very universal and very timely, at least for what is happening in our country.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 25, 2016

Movie No. 83 (2016): HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK

Home Alone 2 : Lost In New York (1992)
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O'Hara, John Heard
Dubbed in Tagalog

I saw Home Alone more than 20 years ago. I remember liking and being truly entertained by it. Macaulay Culkin was an immensely popular Hollywood child actor. Everyone who saw his Home Alone movies would know why. 

I never got a chance to see the next two sequels of the Home Alone until a few days ago, more than twenty years later. Christmas eve, having nothing to do, I turned on the television. Home Alone 2 was just starting. I decided to see it in full despite that it's dubbed in Tagalog. I don't usually see films dubbed in Tagalog or English. I have mastered reading subtitles. If it's in non-English language it should have English subtitles. If it's in English language, there's no need for subtitles; there's no need for dubbing it in Tagalog. It's just me. I'm not imposing my preference to anyone.

For me it was awkward to see white people on screen speaking perfect Tagalog. But I still managed to see the movie in full. Was I entertained? Yes, but slightly, despite that I knew how it would end. But the misadventures involving the lead character leading to the movie's conclusion were, for me, too formulaic, lackadaisical. Had I seen it twenty years ago, my reaction would be different. I guess I'm old for this kind of film.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: December 24, 2016

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Movie No. 82 (2016): EN LA CIUDAD SIN BRUJULA

In The City Without A Compass (2015)
Director: Antonio Savinelli
Cast: Javier Mejia, Agnes Kiraly
In Spanish, with English subtitles

I didn't know about the film. I picked it from the list of titles on board, on my way from Malaysia to Manila. I didn't regret the decision. I was engrossed.

I am a fan of character-driven movies and character studies. This one is about two foreigners who meet and get to know each other in a foreign land. The script interpolates between the mix of personal, local, and cultural problems of the two main characters, i.e., immigration issues, acclimatization, and homesickness. They come from very different cultural backgrounds. In the city where they meet, they get lost in their dreams. 

The movie is very honest. Some may find it slow. In my case, I was not prepared when it's finally done. Then it slowly sunk in. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 4, 2016