Sunday, October 30, 2011

Weekly Round-Up (10/23/11 - 10/29/11)

Z (Costa-Gavras) **** - Someone recommended that I blind-buy this during the Barnes & Noble Criterion DVD sale. I'm glad I did. It's an amazing film. It's intended to be a bold-faced indictment on the situation of the Greek government at that time but it's still very much relevant today. This film will thrill you, intrigue you and also has the power to get you mad, no matter what your politics are. Great performances by the cast, amazing editing and cinematography.

Itim (Mike de Leon) **** - The title literally means "black" but the English language title is "Rites of May". This is yet another great film from director Mike de Leon, who's already one of my favorite directors EVER. This one's about a magazine photographer who visits his invalid dad in his rural hometown and he connects with this young woman whose older sister disappeared and thought dead years before. It's actually a horror film of sorts, well, more like a drama with supernatural overtones. This is his first feature and already a master at pulling off great performances and taking time to build his story in a masterful way that pays off in the end (the big reveal of what really connects the photographer and the young woman).

Puss in Boots (Chris Miller) *** - It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the Shrek franchise but admittedly I do love the Puss in Boots character and is the best part of Shrek 2. His spin-off movie proves to be the best Shrek related thing I've ever seen so far (or at least among those I bothered seeing). It's not a masterpiece, far from it in fact, but it is very entertaining and the pandering snark which pretty much ruins the Shrek franchise as well as most of Dreamworks' early animated films is at a minimum.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Great Scenes # 13: Scream (1996)

Directed by Wes Craven

The 13th Great Scene blogpost just in time for Halloween? What a wonderful coincidence! Yes, since it's Halloween weekend, thought I might do a horror movie this week. But which horror movie scene? There are so many. I finally settled on the opening of Scream, a film I saw in my mid-teens when it first came out. I used to be scared of horror films but slowly but surely I've come around and this movie sealed the deal. The opening scene was terrifying yet such a thrill ride and pretty much revived the slasher film genre.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Listology # 2: 10 Best Horror Films

It's the last week full week of October and that means Halloween is this coming weekend. Now is a good a time as any to present my 10 best horror films at least in my opinion. This should give you guys some idea of what to rent or watch this weekend.

10. The Sixth Sense (1999, M. Night Shyamalan)

Before writer-director M. Night Shyamalan's ego inflated and started creating crap movie after crap movie, he created this horror classic which became a cultural phenomenon. It still holds up very well today. Bruce Willis plays a scarred child psychologist trying to help a young boy (played to perfection by Haley Joel Osment) who claims to "see dead people". The now famous twist ending shocked and amazed people at the time but it holds up well to repeat viewings and it's still quite spooky. It also makes me sad that an obvious talent like Shyamalan has fallen from grace. 

09. Ringu (1998, Hideo Nakata)

The night after I saw this film, I slept with the lights open. It is quite terrifying. The film is from Japan and it's about a cursed videotape. It is said that anyone who watches it dies in a week unless he or she passes the videotape to someone else. The story behind the video that involves a creepy young girl named Sadako adds more to the mystique of the film. This was remade in the U.S. a few years later starring Naomi Watts and directed by Gore Verbinski and although it wasn't terrible or insulting, it still doesn't hold a candle to the original Japanese version which is a must-see. 

08. Eyes Without a Face (1960, Georges Franju)

A once brilliant doctor gets into a car accident that horribly disfigures his once beautiful daughter. So he and an assistant hunt down young girls to surgically remove their faces and graft them onto the face of his daughter in hopes of restoring her beauty. Don't let the fact that it's French, black & white and from the 1960's fool you. This is a not a film for the squeamish. This contains a rather graphic and gory surgery scene that can satisfy gorehounds. But it's just one scene. The film itself is a beautiful gothic tragic piece of film that is definitely a must-see for anybody.

07. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper)

Among all the teen slasher films of the 1970's and 1980's, this is by far my favorite. Leatherface scares me more than Freddy, Jason and the rest. The first original film is simply an astounding low-budget B-movie achievement and pretty much wrote all the cliches of these types of films. A group of young people lose their way and find themselves at the mercy of a chainsaw-wielding maniac and most of them meet horrible deaths. It's straightforward and simple. Lots of imitators, but seldom equaled and almost always fall short. This film surprisingly has very little actual on-screen gore which makes it even more effective, in my opinion.

06. Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)

I featured this in one of my past The Great Scenes blogpost and for good reason. This is widely considered the masterpiece of the giallo subgenre of horror (Italian horror films known for their both their gore and beauty). It's about a young American ballet dancer who goes to a dance school in Europe with a horrific secret. The cinematography and art direction of this film is simply breathtaking that you almost can't take your eyes off of it despite the horrible violence going on. The film is further along helped by the great score of the group Goblin.

05. The Night of the Living Dead (1968, George Romero)

I have to say that of all the horror subgenres out there, the one that is my favorite has got to be the zombies. The zombie is the one movie monster that actually frightens me for some reason because this type of undead state is so horrifying to think about. Few horror directors have done zombie movies better than George Romero. Although I only listed the first one, Night of the Living Dead in this list but it's just for formality's sake, I'd like to think this also goes for Dawn of the Dead (1975) and Day of the Dead (1983). Hell, even Land of the Dead though not as great as his earlier works still has greatness in it. Suffice to say that yes, I am watching The Walking Dead now. 

04. Nosferatu (1922, F.W. Murnau)

With all due respect to Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, I happen to consider Max Schreck as Count Orlok in F.W. Murnau's silent horror classic Nosferatu to be the best cinematic vampire in history. His startling and frightening appearance can still put a chill in one's spine even today. The film basically follows the Dracula story but since they couldn't actually do a direct adaptation of the novel due to copyright issues, they just changed the title and the names but it's still obviously Dracula

03. Frankenstein (1931, James Whale)

What else can I say? It's still a freakin' classic. This is probably the most universally loved adaptation of the Mary Shelley classic. Although it's not really technically scary (although the scene where the Monster first emerges still gives me the willies) and more tragic, it's still one of the greats because it's a story well-told. Boris Karloff though only grunts gives the Monster depth and pathos with just his eyes and his movements. It's followed by a sequel, Bride of Frankenstein that's just as great (some say even better). 

 02. Psycho (1960, Alfred Hitchcock)

This is one of those "grey area" films. Is it more horror or thriller? I would say it qualifies as horror. It is, in fact, one of the earliest slasher films. Everyone and their mom knows the story and of course is aware of its famous second act kills where the apparent protagonist meets her end in the shower. It's such a shocking, ballsy move for a film which pretty much cements its status as a classic and one of director Alfred Hitchcock's very best films.

01. The Exorcist (1973, William Friedkin)

I'm a Catholic (semi-lapsed but I still believe in God) so growing up, this movie terrified me more than the average other person because I grew up believing in the Devil. This film about a little girl possessed by a malevolent demon allegedly based on a true story has lots of shocking and truly scary and disturbing and gross-out moments but what makes it a classic and a masterpiece is that it's also one of the most insightful and moving films about religious faith ever made. It gives it that extra oomph which makes me come back again and again and again. 

RUNNERS-UP & HONORABLE MENTIONS: Dracula (1931, Tod Browning), Halloween (1978, John Carpenter), The Omen (1976, Richard Donner), Don't Look Now (1972, Nicolas Roeg), Rosemary's Baby (1967, Roman Polanski), Scream (1996, Wes Craven), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007, Tim Burton), The Shining (1980, Stanley Kubrick), Onibaba (1964, Kaneto Shindo), The Birds (1963, Alfred Hitchcock), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962, Robert Aldrich).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekly Round-Up (10/16/11 - 10/22/11)

Chico y Rita (Fernando Trueba/Tono Errando/Javier Mariscal) ***1/2 - This is a Spanish-language animated film about an elderly Cuban jazz pianist reminicse about his love affair with a singer during that period after World War II and before the Cuban revolution. The plot is pretty much been-there-done-that but the heart and the intent behind it, a beautiful love letter to jazz and Latino music as well as the nostalgia behind it lifts it up to new heights. The handdrawn animation is also similarly gorgeous. A really great, near-perfect film.

Kisapmata (Mike de Leon) **** -When a young man and a young woman get married, the woman's super-overprotective father meddles in their relationship. But family secrets underneath are much more sinister than what it seems. Now, I know why it's considered a landmark in Filipino cinema. Vic Silayan is absolutely terrifying as the "overprotective" father. I love that he never plays him as a one-dimensional monster but a full human being which makes him even MORE frightening. The film is extremely well-shot and features some stunning direction which produces an aura of uncomfortable tension althroughout. It's definitely in the running in my Top 5 best Filipino films of all time.

Paranormal Activity 3 (Henry Joost/Ariel Schulman) **1/2 - I can't believe I actually went and saw this. But I kind of liked the first two since admittedly I'm a sucker for "true ghost stories"/documentaries and this series gives the feeling of one. Well, they managed to squeeze yet another pretty solid film out of the basic premise although it's showing signs of getting tired. Still, it does manage to have some decent scares. If you liked the first two films, there's no reason for you to not like this one.

Winnie The Pooh (Stephen J. Anderson/Don Hall) *** - I grew up watching the original Winnie the Pooh films repeatedly. The TV series and the subsequent films are nowhere up to par with the originals so this back-to-the-basics reboot, so to speak is something I was looking forward. The results are pretty darn close. The childlike whimsy and quirkiness that one comes to associate with these loveable characters are mostly there. The 2D animation is likewise also superb. It's a pity this didn't do well theatrically.

The Great Scenes # 12: Notorious (1946)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Director Alfred Hitchcock is often referred to as "The Master" for the simple reason that he is. He has made tons of great scenes, some very famous and iconic. I do absolutely love a lot of his films, my personal favorite would have to be Notorious. It's a very tense thriller but also one of the most romantic films ever made. It's about a government agent (Cary Grant) who falls in love with a recruit (Ingrid Bergman) tasked to seduce and marry a Nazi (Claude Rains). If you haven't seen this film, I strongly suggest avoiding playing the video above so you won't be spoiled. This is the climax of the film, the famous stairway sequence.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Listology #1: 10 Best Filipino Films

This is a first in a series of blogposts (much like my "great scenes" one) where I simply list down my different favorite types of films. I can't think of a better way to kick it off than tackle the cinema of my home country, the Philippines. Philippine cinema has always been a blind spot for even the most hardcore of film buffs (who are not Filipinos, at least). Unlike many other countries, events in our history has not treated the preservation of Filipino films very kindly. With a few exceptions, practically all of our films, even the ones considered to be classics, before the 1960's and the 1950's are lost. Plus the ones we do have are mostly in bad shape. A few directors have made some dents and waves internationally, most notably Lino Brocka, Eddie Romero, Gerry de Leon, Ishmael Bernal, Manuel Conde and Lamberto Avellana but they're nowhere near as famous as Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini or Francois Truffaut. 

More recently though, Philippine cinema has found its niche, in a way, in world cinema thanks to our new wave of sorts of independent filmmakers such as Aureus Solito, Raya Martin, Lav Diaz, Jeffrey Jeturian, Khavn de la Cruz and Brillante Mendoza, who won the Best Director prize at Cannes for his controversial film Kinatay

In an effort to raise more awareness and appreciation of Filipino cinema, here's a list of, in my opinions based on what I've seen so far, the 10 best Filipino films:

10. The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (2005, Aureus Solito)

This is a sweet coming of age dramedy about a 12 year old gay boy, Maximo, who comes from a family of petty thieves who falls in love with a rookie policeman next door. It's more sweet and moving than in any way, shape or form racy or leery, this is probably the film that hearken the new wave of Filipino independent films that are currently making waves in film festivals around the world. It's also our biggest international hit. This film currently available on DVD on Amazon and Netflix. 

09. Kakabakaba Ka Ba? ("Does Your Heart Beat Faster?") (1980, Mike de Leon)

This is quite simply one of the most bizarre and most giddily original films I've ever seen. This is a musical/comedy film about four friends (two pairs of couples) who go on a really strange journey which I will not reveal here but it does culminate in the image you see above. It's probably the lightest film on this list, certainly one of the best Filipino comedies ever made. This is the first film on this list by one of my favorite directors ever, Filipino or otherwise, Mike de Leon.

08. Oro, Plata, Mata (1982, Peque Gallaga)

I once read an article claiming that Robert Duvall saw this film and remarked that he felt it was better than Apocalypse Now. I'm not sure about that though but this is a great film. Set during World War II in the Philippines, this tells the tale of an affluent Filipino family in the rural area and their harrowing experience during the war. This is a three-hour epic featuring scenes of both breathtaking beauty and absolutely disturbing violence. The DVD is already hard to come by, even locally. 

07. Scorpio Nights (1985, Peque Gallaga)

This comes from the same director of Oro Plata Mata, Peque Gallaga. It's a far more intimate film but it's no less harrowing, gripping and disturbing. It's about a young man who spies on the beautiful wife of a nightwatchman in the apartment underneath his room. His voyeurism eventually leads into an extremely torrid affair with the woman. The sex scenes are notorious for being one of the most explicit ever filmed in Philippine cinema. I would compare this to the Japanese film In the Realm of the Senses although it's just a smidgen less "real" than that. The ending is pretty f-ed up.

06. Maynila Sa Kuko Ng Liwanag ("Manila in the Claws of Brightness") (1975, Lino Brocka)

This is probably the most famous Filipino film. It's often cited as the best Filipino film ever made. I sort of disagree with that since there are at least five I like better. But it's still a great one. It's about a young man from the rural area of the country who goes to the big city in search of his childhood sweetheart whose name "Ligaya Paraiso" means Happiness Paradise. Owing a lot to Italian neo-realism, the film is a rather bleak look of the rural poor searching for prosperity in the city. 

05. Himala (1982, Ishmael Bernal) 

This film was recently voted as the "Best Asia-Pacific Film" of all time, according to a CNN poll. I may not agree with that and I attribute its success to mouse-click happy Filipinos who like to see anything Filipino as "best" at something. But it is still a great film. Plus I have to admit there is a bit of bias going on here because I happen to personally know the screenwriter of this film, Ricky Lee, who is a friend and mentor of mine. Well, what's this film about? The word himala means "miracle" and this is about a woman named Elsa (played by Nora Aunor who delivers one of her most iconic and famous roles in Filipino film history) who claims to have seen visions from God and starts healing people from miles around. It's one of the most intelligent films about religion and faith that's still compelling and relevant today as it ever was. The DVD may also be available in Netflix. 

04. Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos ("Three Godless Years") (1976, Mario O'Hara)

This is an excellent companion piece to Oro, Plata, Mata in that it also tackles World War II in the Philippines. This time, it's about a family in a rural village whose daughter (played again, by Nora Aunor) is raped and impregnated by a Japanese-Filipino soldier who is fighting for the Japanese side. He aims to make amends by courting her and eventually marrying her. Her family is branded and scorned as traitors by most of the village. My fellow Filipino film critic Noel Vera says *this* is the best Filipino movie ever made. I disagree with him slightly but it's still in the Top 5. 

03. Batch '81 (1982, Mike de Leon)

This is yet another Mike de Leon film. This time around, it revolves around a group of college guys who wish to join a college fraternity. But it involves a series of brutal, painful, humiliating and often extremely violent hazing rituals. Although it is at times funny, the violent sadism can pretty much rival the stuff in Quentin Tarantino films. (Man, lots of bleak films on this list!) 

02. Kisapmata ("In the Blink of an Eye") (1981, Mike de Leon)

Oh, man. I just saw this movie yesterday (it will be featured again in my "Weekly-Round-Up" series). It has jumped into my favorites of all time list fast. This is yet another superb masterpiece from director Mike de Leon. It concerns a young woman who gets married to her boyfriend but her "overprotective", authoritarian father lingers over them causing friction in their respective relationships but the "overprotectivness" of the father masks a deeper, darker secret. I would describe this film as a totally f-ed up version of Father of the Bride (I think some of you may already guess what it is). It features fantastic performance from Vic Silayan who plays the father. He is downright scary but all-too human which makes him even more terrifying. This film is actually available for viewing on Youtube but unfortunately it has no English subtitles.

01. Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang ("Weighed but Found Wanting") (1974, Lino Brocka) 

The number one film is actually quite close to the number two film. Anytime they can switch but for now, let's keep the order. This is probably my favorite and what I personally consider the best Filipino film. This one is about a young man from an upper-middle class family in a town. He befriends a mentally-ill woman and a horribly disfigured man (played by Mario O'Hara who directed Three Godless Years) who are the village outcasts. His involvement with these two characters would open his eyes to the buried secrets of his town and the utter cruelty and hypocrisy of the more "civilized" people in his town. Director Lino Brocka has made a lot of social commentary films but this one is his best and basically personifies all his unique strengths as a director. This one is also available on DVD but you have to really look for it.

I sincerely hope that you guys try and give Filipino films a chance. These are five great films to start with! 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Weekly Round-up (10/9/11 - 10/15/11)

Bad Day to Go Fishing (Alvaro Brechner) ** - This is a strange little Uruguayan film about a con artist and a washed up body-builder/wrestler who go around small towns in South America for shows and fights. For a film about a wrestler, there's surprisingly very little wrestling. The film is well-made and the performances are good but the tone is all over the place resulting in a film that's kind of a headscratcher for me.

The Rebound (Bart Freundlich) *1/2 - This romantic-comedy, despite starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Bartha, never really got a wide U.S. release. You can definitely see why. It's about a newly-divorced 40-year-old mom who has an affair with her 25-year-old babysitter. The film, despite the valiant efforts of its cast, fall mostly flat. Bartha and Zeta-Jones have zero chemistry and fails to be about anything about anyone.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Great Scenes # 11: Stalker (1979)

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky

This is the final scene from the cerebral science-fiction film Stalker but it's not really spoiler-y because you have to have seen the entire film to even have a smidgen of a chance to fully and completely understand the implications of this scene. (Hell, some people will still not get this scene even after seeing the entire film). As it is, it's a strange haunting scene which features very unsettling use of music and sound that depicts a little girl using telekinesis. The film itself is a masterful work but not for the most casual movie goers.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Another Blog?

Cinema is not the only thing I'm interested in, believe it or not. It's my greatest passion, of course but it's not the only thing I'm excited about or the only thing I'm interested in writing about. I also enjoy television, music, books, theater (especially musical theater), stand-up comedy, a little bit of history, science, philosophy, travel, etc. So I've been seriously considering making another blog for anything and everything else I may want to write about: a TV show, a book I'm reading, my personal opinions on world issues, an amusing anecdote from my life, random rants about random things, etc.

So I'd like to ask if you guys would be interested in reading that and do you think a second blog is a good idea? Or do you not mind if I write about non-cinematic things on *this* blog? I'd like to hear from you on the comments below. Thanks.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekly Round Up (10/2/11 - 10/8/11)

Warrior (Gavin O'Connor) ***1/2 - I've said it once and I'll say it again: I'm not a sports fan. That's why I'm always kind of wary when it comes to sports movies. Thankfully, this is one of the good ones. The sport this time around is mixed martial arts but apart from that, the plot is pretty generic and the script is deeply flawed. However, the outstanding performances of Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and ESPECIALLY Nick Nolte lifts up the flawed material and turns it into a truly compelling drama.

Bridesmaids (Paul Feig) *** - Like some Judd Apatow productions, this movie is a bit overlong for a comedy at a little over two hours. Though that is a flaw, the film still has a very healthy dose of laughs. The cast is good (give or take Rose Byrne) especially Melissa McCarthy. Kristen Wiig's character gets irritating every now and then but I guess that's intentional. This movie has been called the female Hangover. I disagree. I think it's somewhat better (though I consider it good, not great).

Friends with Benefits (Will Gluck) **1/2 - If this was better than No Strings Attached, I probably wouldn't wanna see No Strings Attached. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are both suitably charming and the supporting cast is pretty strong (especially Patricia Clarkson and Woody Harrelson) but the film itself, despite being pretty slickly made, is pretty meh in the plot department. It's kind of ironic that the characters make fun of rom-com tropes early in the movie, only to fall into it later on. It's an entertaining enough time-killer but nothing more than that.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Great Scenes # 10: Rome, Open City (1945)

Pina's Death

Directed by Roberto Rossellini

Yes, this is spoiling the film a bit but it's more emotional and shocking if you see the context of this scene in the film. Rome, Open City was made at the tail end of World War II. It focuses on resistance fighters standing up against the Nazis. The Italian neorealist film, directed by Roberto Rossellini is one of the best films made on the subject. In this scene, Anna Magnani plays Pina, one of the said resistance fighters as she chases after her husband who was captured but is gunned down in front of her son and her priest. It's a brief scene but it's shocking and emotional all at once.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Top 5 Film Songs

Now, it's my long-awaited part 2 to my movie music posts. This time around, it's film SONGS and that means music with both melody and lyrics. In order to qualify for this list, the film has to be just as good (if not better) than the song plus it has to be specifically written for the film so unfortunately, "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca will not be eligible.Also not eligible are a lot of great songs from film adaptations of Broadway musicals. (Of course like the previous, I had to have seen the film as well.)

5. "I'm Easy" from Nashville
Written and performed by Keith Carradine

Nashville is one of the masterpieces of the great American director Robert Altman. It follows 25 characters in the course of a day or two in, where else, Nashville, each one involved in country or gospel music. There are lots of original songs in this film, some of which were actually written by the actors themselves, including this one written by Keith Carradine which probably is the most popular of the bunch (and, IMO, at least, the best and probably the most memorable). It won the Oscar for Best Original Song.

4. "Beauty and the Beast" from Beauty and the Beast
Written by Alan Menken (music) & Howard Ashman (lyrics)
Performed by Angela Lansbury
Disney has given us a lot of great, memorable movie songs from "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" to "When You Wish Upon a Star" to "A Whole New World" and tons and tons of others but this one is probably my favorite. Such a simple, beautiful song that perfectly, perfectly captures the spirit of the great animated musical it was written for. It deservedly won the Best Original Song Oscar as well. I know there's a pop version performed by Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson but I think Angela Lansbury's version is the best.

3. "Mrs. Robinson" from The Graduate
Written by Paul Simon
Performed by Simon & Garfunkel
The Graduate is one of the most groundbreaking and definitive films of the 1960s and one of the things that helped it achieve its classic status is its fantastic soundtrack which deftly captured both the film and the era in which it was released. "Mrs. Robinson" is a classic movie song. However, it was not even nominated for an Oscar. Why? Because Paul Simon forgot to submit the proper paperwork. Oh, drugs.

2. "Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's
Written by Henry Mancini (music) & Johnny Mercer (lyrics)
Performed by Audrey Hepburn
Breakfast at Tiffany's is director Blake Edwards' romantic-dramedy that's an adaptation of a work by Truman Capote. It stars Audrey Hepburn in one of her most famous roles. It's also where the song "Moon River" came from. It's a simple yet beautiful and moving song. It has been covered tons of times most famously by Frank Sinatra and Andy Williams. Audrey Hepburn sings it in the film and although she doesn't have the most perfect voice, she captures the song's moving simplicity and sweetness better than a lot of the singers that covered it subsequently.

1. "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz
Written by Harold Arlen (music) & E.Y. Harburg (lyrics)
Performed by Judy Garland
You shouldn't be surprised. Personally, I don't think a Top 5 Movie Songs list has any credibility if this particular is not in there somewhere. It's probably one of the most beautiful songs ever written period. Yes, I'll say it and I'm not ashamed. Like "Moon River", tons and tons of singers have covered it but I think the best version is still Judy Garland's from the film itself. And to think, the studio heads almost cut this song out because they felt it slowed the movie down! That would've been tragic. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekly Round-Up (9/25/11 - 10/1/11)

The Anchorite (Juan Estelrich) *** - This is a quirky little dramedy from Spain. It's about a man who for some vague reason has chosen to live in his large bathroom for the past 11 years. That is until the little notes he's been flushing down the toilet was found by a beautiful young woman. The film is set entirely in the bathroom but avoids feeling stage-y or even claustrophobic. The performances are quite excellent. The film's quirky concept doesn't get too pretentious and self-satisfied for its own good. Overall, a fine film.

Body of War (Phil Donahue/Ellen Spiro) **1/2 - This is an anti-Iraq War documentary that focuses on one soldier, Tomas Young, who was rendered paralyzed while serving his country. The film touches upon many familiar grounds that we've all seen from documentaries of this kind. Yes, it is definitely biased. It will make you angry for different reasons no matter what side of the political you belong to. It's not bad but I've seen better.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (Nagisa Oshima) *** - This film is about British soldiers at a Japanese POW camp during World War II. But it's not Bridge on the River Kwai. This one's more of a study on cultural clashes between two very different groups of people as well as a character study. I was fairly surprised that Nagisa Oshima didn't let his own people off the hook by portraying the Japanese soldiers in a negative light at times. The film's imperfect but the performances are great (David Bowie should really act more) and the humane ending makes it worthwhile.

Hanna (Joe Wright) ***1/2 - If there was such a thing as an "arthouse action film", this is it. The film is stylish, intense, lyrical, brutal and beautifully made almost to a fault. The film is anchored on a truly great performance by Saoirse Ronan who is on her way to becoming one of the best young actresses out there. Extra points for that now pretty famous tracking shot that leads up to an impressive and intense subway fight scene and of course the Chemical Brothers' great score.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Great Scenes # 9: Sherlock Jr. (1924)

Directed by Buster Keaton

Much like music lovers have long debated on The Beatles vs. Elvis Presley, movie lovers also have debated on Charlie Chaplin vs. Buster Keaton (SMART-ASS FILM SNOB: "Neither! Harold Lloyd!"). I've always thought that I feel Buster Keaton is a better filmmaker but I found Charlie Chaplin, overall funnier. But since watching and rewatching their respective films, I think I'm leaning towards the Keaton camp. Sherlock Jr. is probably one of my favorite silent films of all time and though it's only about 45 minutes long, it's filled with amazing stunts, laughs and great filmmaking. One example of which is featured here. In it, Keaton plays a movie projectionist who falls asleep while on the job and dreams of going in and out of the movie screen. It's funny and an impressive feat of photographic effects and editing.