Sunday, November 27, 2011

Weekly Round-Up (11/20/11 - 11/26/11)

A Propos De Nice (Jean Vigo) ***1/2 - This film reminds me of Dziga Vertov's The Man With a Movie Camera in that it's simply a montage of images of the everyday and the mundane but shot and edited together to form something beautiful. Only instead of the Russian industrial complex, the setting this time around is a leisurely coastal town. Though I personally prefer the Vertov film, Vigo's film has more humor, playfulness and naughtiness to go with the beauty.

Taris (Jean Vigo) *** - I saw this in conjunction with A Propos De Nice. This is a film Jean Vigo was paid to do and it's basically an instructional/demo film with champion French swimmer Jean Taris. Despite that, it's quite fascinating because Vigo's playfulness, humor and adventurous spirit still shines through. Both films show the promise he would fulfill in his next (and sadly last) two films which are both his masterpieces.

Bellflower (Evan Glodell) ** - Two best friends decide to build themselves a badass car with a huge-ass flamethrower emulating the car from Mad Max as they deal with their personal demons. It's a messy mish-mash of a film that is more of a turn-off more than anything. The film's very dark third act felt out-of-place and very jarring and left a bad taste in my mouth, so to speak. It feels like the filmmaker wanted to make three different films and he just did it all in the same script. It's promising for a first-time filmmaker but the script definitely needed a rewrite.

Two for the Road (Stanley Donen) ***1/2 - A romantic dramedy which follows a couple in the different stages of their relationship in a uniquely non-linear narrative, predominantly set in a stretch of road in the European countryside. Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn are both magnificent as the couple and it's their show all the way. The non-linear structure of the film allows us, the audience, to fully understand all the reasons why they fell in love, why they fell out of love, the ups, the downs and everything in between. Though it at times gets repetitive and their characters can be frustrating and irritating at times, the film still grips you because through Finney and Hepburn, you're along for the ride. I thought this would be a bit bleaker but I'm surprised at the amount of humor in it and how it ends in a hopeful note.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Great Scenes # 15: All That Jazz (1979)

Directed by Bob Fosse
No, I did not forget this regular feature of mine. What more appropriate way to restart than with probably one of the greatest song & dance numbers ever filmed, at least in my opinion. In this semi-autobiographical film, Roy Scheider plays Joe Gideon, a chain-smoking, pill-popping, womanizing hotshot theater and film director who is both staging his next big Broadway musical and editing his next film while trying to spend time with his ex-wife, daughter, girlfriend and various other women trying to compete for his attention. This is one of the highlights of the film where Joe Gideon presents a number to his producers/investors and this is what he came up with: An erotic, almost orgy like very racy yet beautiful dance sequence that both shows that Fosse is a master in making his stunning choreography look great on film through cinematography and editing.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Weekly Round-up (11/13/11 - 11/19/11)

Kinatay (Brillante Mendoza) ***1/2 - A shocking, horrifying film about a young criminology student/rookie cop/new father/new husband who takes an extra job for much needed extra pay but gets more than what he bargained for as he joins a group of corrupt cops doing unspeakable things to a hooker. I can see how Mendoza won Best Director at Cannes. It's a tense film. It singlehandedly turned familiar sights and sounds around Manila into a surreal nightmare of sorts as it builds to its inevitable conclusion. A bit heavyhanded here and there but nevertheless quite compelling and appropriately shattering.

A Matter of Size (Sharon Maymon/Erez Tadmor) ** - A group of overweight Jewish men in a town in Israel find their confidence and self-worth through sumo wrestling. After the novelty of seeing a different side of Israel (like who knew there were Japanese people there, much less Japanese people who know Hebrew!), this film is pretty much feels like a Full Monty knock-off (replace stripping with sumo wrestling) and I'm not a huge Full Monty fan. There are some amusing moments here and there but all in all, it's mediocre stuff.

I Saw The Devil (Kim Jee-woon) ***1/2 - (See review below)

Red State (Kevin Smith) **1/2 - (See review below)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) *** - (See review below)

Nightfishing (Chan-wook Park/Chan-kyong Park) *** -  (See review below)

This Is Not A Film (Jafar Panahi/Mojtaba Mirtahmasb) *** - (See review below)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethkathul) ***1/2  - (See review below)

Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (Joann Sfar) **1/2 -  (See review below)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cinemanila Film Festival Reviews # 5

(This is the final installment of the series as the festival ended today. In past years, some films have enjoyed special extended screenings at certain times but with the upcoming release of Breaking Dawn Part 1 this week, that is highly unlikely to happen this year)

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethkathul) ***1/2 - A dying man gather together his loved ones including the ghost of his dead wife and his son who returns to him as a large ape with glowing red eyes as he recalls his different past lives. A strange, quirky film to be sure but oddly mesmerizing just like the second half of the only other film I've seen of "Joe's", Tropical Malady. It's not for everybody but a fascinating entry into the pantheon of world cinema. 

 Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life (Joann Sfar) **1/2 - This is actually a biopic of French musician Serge Gainsbourg. I actually know next to nothing of him apart from the fact that he's some sort of musician and the dad of Charlotte Gainsbourg. It actually starts out very promisingly with quirky tidbits that seem to promise an unconventional, quirky and unique biopic but alas, such things don't happen often enough and it quickly falls into the conventions of a typical music biopic. But the performances are topnotch and it did hold my attention althroughout (extra points for finding an actress who really does look like a Brigitte Bardot).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cinemanila Film Festival Reviews # 4

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) *** - A group of men including police, prosecutor, a doctor and the murderers drive through the Turkish countryside in search of a dead body. This is Turkey's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category this year and I don't think it's gonna make it in (but then again, I said that about Milk of Sorrow). Not because it's not any good but its lumbering pace may be a trial for a lot of people to sit through. It was a little trying at times for me but the film's hypnotic and GORGEOUS photography of the exotic locale and the fascinating character bits of the ensemble made the film well worth it. 

Nightfishing (Chan-wook Park/Chan-kyong Park) *** - I'm not a fan of Old Boy but Chan-wook Park is an intriguing filmmaker whose films I'd wanna see more of. This is a film shot entirely on an iPhone 4 and it looks pretty darn good. But beyond the gimmick, the film tells the story of a fisherman who catches something and there's an intriguing twist. It's only half an hour long but it's a solid piece of work. 

This Is Not A Film (Jafar Panahi/Mojtaba Mirtahmasb) *** - A little background for those not in the know: Controversial Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi was arrested, tried and sentenced to six years in prison and a ban on writing and directing films and travelling abroad for 20 years by the oppressive Iranian government. This documentary is sort of slyly giving the middle finger to the government as Panahi and Mirtahmasb document one day of Panahi's house arrest as he awaits for his appeal. Nothing particularly earth-shattering happens but it is an intriguing look into the private life and career of one of the world's most important filmmakers and the importance of artistic freedom.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cinemanila Film Festival Reviews # 3

I Saw The Devil (Kim Jee-woon) ***1/2 - When a sadistic serial killer murders the fiance of a trained secret agent, the latter goes on a violent revenge plot. It's part-horror film, part-revenge action thriller and it works very, very well together. The film takes you for a largely unpredictable ride and shifts genres and tones with ease and without being jarring. The violence is shocking and cringe-inducing but mostly quite effective and justified. The actor from Old Boy plays the serial killer and quite effective too. I think I like this better than the other film.

Red State (Kevin Smith) **1/2 - There are lots of things to like about Smith's thinly veiled assault on Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. But there are also a lot of flaws. It's clear that Kevin Smith has a lot to say about the subject but none of it really deep and penetrating. One thing I do love about this film is Michael Parks' performance as the fire-and-brimstone preacher Abin Cooper. It's worth seeing the film just for his 15-minute sermon right in the middle of it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Weekly Round-Up (11/6/11 - 11/12/11)

Tower Heist (Brett Ratner) **1/2 - Like any self-respecting cinephile, I'm not much of a fan of Brett Ratner but I will say this is probably Brett Ratner's best work to date. This is thanks to a very solid script from Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, two screenwriters who know how to make the heist formula work and the strong supporting cast. My biggest complaint is actually the lead Ben Stiller who's only barely competent in the lead role. He isn't horrible but a better actor could've made that role sing. Still, this is slickly made entertaining inoffensive Hollywood fluff.

Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (Rodman Flender) *** - Upfront, I will say that I am definitely Team CoCo all the way! I'm a fan of Conan O'Brien, one of the funniest late night comics around. This documentary is actually a behind-the-scenes look at his music/comedy tour he did in between late-night hosting jobs. It's pretty standard and your enjoyment of this truly depends on how much you love Conan O'Brien. It is however well-made and offers a fascinating look into Conan behind-the-scenes. It isn't always flattering, suprisingly but for me, it did nothing to tarnish his reputation in my eyes.

Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn) **** - This is a near-perfect stylish neo-noir film that is quite reminiscent of thrillers from the 1970's when filmmakers actually took the time to build character and tell a story rather than trying to dazzle us with eye candy and stunts. There are some car chases here but they take a backseat to the tense story of a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a crime getaway car. The film's slow pace actually makes the sudden burst of shocking violence even more intense and effective. Ryan Gosling does what he does best and makes you feel for a man who barely speaks and doesn't even have a name. Albert Brooks is chilling as the villain. Why isn't he in more character roles like this? This is one of the best of the year.

Pina (Wim Wenders) **** - (See review below)

Nanga Parbat (Joseph Vilsmaer) **1/2 - (See review below)

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike) **** - (See review below)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cinemanila Film Festival Reviews # 2

Nanga Parbat (Joseph Vilsmaer) **1/2 - This film is based on the true story Reinhold Messner and his brother Gunther's tragic ascent to the titular mountain. I didn't know much about the film going in and what follows is a fairly straightforward story about man vs. nature and trying to survive. It's not a bad film. It features some stunning cinematography and on-location work plus Gustavo Santaollala's score is superb. But I've seen it done better (Touching the Void, for example).

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike) **** - Now THIS is a movie! Few things could make my cinephile heart pitter-patter more than a great samurai flick. And this is it. I'm not much of a fan of Takashi Miike based on just a few works I've seen of his but man, color me converted. The plot is pretty much straightforward: A group of samurai decide that they have to kill a psychotic lord aiming to bring back the age of war and does cruel, unspeakable things to his subjects. What follows is probably the best action movie of the year. Great performances by a fine ensemble. Intense action and visuals. What more could you ask for? This would've made Kurosawa proud!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Cinemanila Film Festival Reviews # 1

(The following will be a series of posts reviewing films for the 2011 Cinemanila Film Festival that just opened today, 11-11-11. There will still be round-up's however). 

This is the opening film of the film festival. I was fortunate enough to win passes to see it for free at an invitation-only screening which also served as the opening ceremony for the festival. Here's my review:

Pina (Wim Wenders) **** - Hands down, this film is the strongest justification of the existence of 3D technology in film and this is coming from someone who really liked "Avatar". This film is about the late great dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch who I was only vaguely familiar with before I've heard of this film. But you need not be a longtime Pina Bausch fan or a fan of modern dance in general in order to be enthralled and captivated by this documentary which served as a loving tribute to the woman. This is definitely a film which simply *must* be seen in 3D if not a really great high-def video screen because I can't imagine watching some sequences in this film without the 3D without losing something really significant. Wenders utilizes in such a way that it enhances the dance sequences and made you feel like you were watching an actual dance live in front of you and get every sophisticated movement and you can even sense the movements of the background dancers. This is a definitely a must-see, a stunning piece of filmmaking.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Muppets SHOULD host the Oscars!

Following the Brett Ratner brouhaha and his resignation and exit, host Eddie Murphy soon followed. With the host spot vacant, I think the Muppets should host the Oscars. They will be very funny and biting yet also very classy and very wholesome. Quite a brilliant combo in an Oscar host.

Join the campaign:!/MuppetOscars

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekly Round-Up (10/30/11 - 11/5/11)

Poetry (Lee Chang-dong) ***1/2 - An elderly woman takes a poetry class at around the same time she learns that her teenage grandson is involved in a shocking, tragic death of a young girl. This is a lovely film. It's dark and absolutely heartbreaking yet at same time oddly life-affirming as well. It's anchored by the simply outstanding performance of Yun Jeong-hie as the grandmother. This is my first taste of director Lee Chang-dong's work. I can't wait to see more.

Dracula (Tod Browning) **** - This is one of my chosen Halloween movies. This is my second or third time watching it. Yes, the effects are cheesy (you can see the strings on the phony bat!) and the scares are somewhat dated. But still, the film still has a spooky atmosphere and Bela Lugosi is still the best Dracula there is.

Repulsion (Roman Polanski) **** - This is my other Halloween film. My second time. Catherine Deneuve is a marvel as a beautiful young sexually repressed woman who slowly but surely goes batshit crazy while left alone in her London flat she shares with her sister. A magnificent piece of horror filmmaking.

The Thing (Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.) **1/2 - I came in with low expectations. This is not a remake but rather a prequel to the original John Carpenter classic 1982 shocker sci-fi horror film. Although it's nowhere near as great as the original, for what it is, it is pretty darn entertaining. Despite the fact that it borrows way too much from the John Carpenter version, we know too much about and see too much of the Thing (one of the reasons why the 1982 version is great is that we never know what the Thing actually looks like) and of course the CGI, despite the fact they tried to minimize its usage. All in all, not bad, not great but it does make me wanna watch the original again.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Great Scenes # 14: Blow-Up (1966)

Mime Tennis Finale
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni

Blow-Up is a puzzle wrapped in an enigma. A fashion photographer (David Hemmings) captures an intriguing photo of what he believes may be a murder taking place. Then he goes into a strange journey which raises more questions than it answers. The film's intriguing tone is captured very beautifully by its final scene where the lead character watches a group of mimes "play" tennis. It's strange, somewhat surreal and probably one of the most brilliant, famous scenes shot by one of world cinema's masters, Michelangelo Antonioni.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2011 Cinemanila International Film Festival

Back in 2002, I was fresh out of college and didn't have a job yet. My mom suggested that I go and find work in the Cinemanila Film Festival at the time was only five years old. After finding out that volunteers and participants get free access to all the movies, I jumped at the chance. I'm very glad I did. It contributed hugely to my cinephilia since I got exposed to a lot of films from all around the world. Every year, even after I have found steadier employment, I always look forward to Cinemanila because it means I get to see films that normally would not get wide commercial releases in my country. The past few years have found the festival gaining prominence since famous film people have graced the festival: Quentin Tarantino, Lou Diamond Phillips, Paul Schrader, Fernando Meirelles have visited and promoted their films in the festival. This year, Italian horror maestro Dario Argento will be receiving the Lifetime Achievement award and one can only assume he'll be on hand to grace the proceedings.

Films scheduled to be screened this year include:  Pina, German director Wim Wenders' 3D dance documentary/cinematic tribute to the late dancer Pina Bausch; 13 Assassins, prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike's samurai epic and I Saw the Devil, a South Korean horror film, just to name a few. I will be seeing these films and more and will be reviewing them as I see them, in addition to my weekly round-ups. If you're in Manila in between November 11th and November 17th, you can catch these films and more at the Market! Market! Cinemas. I for one can't freakin' wait.