Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

I'm writing this at the final hours of 2011. Let me greet you all a very happy and safe New Year!

I actually have a movie-related New Year's tradition which I've been practicing for a few years now. I make the last film I watch (or the first depending on how you see it) for the year be Jacques Tati's classic epic comedy Playtime. Why? Because it's one of my favorite films of all time and for good reason, it's a wonderful, warm, funny look at modernity and a celebration and triumph and joy of humanity. Such a wonderful, life-affirming message for the new year. Each time I see it I discover something new. These clips don't do justice to the visuals of the film so I highly recommend that you see it on the big screen or a good quality TV screen at least!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Great Scenes # 18: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

I featured a great movie monologue last week so here's another one. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, otherwise known as the Archers. It follows the life of an accomplished British military officer named Clive Wynne-Candy from World War I to World War II. This scene is an unforgettable and truly heartbreaking scene featuring an old friend of his, who happened to be a German officer during World War I who rejects Nazism. He is played by Anton Walbrook and probably features one of the top 5 greatest acting scenes ever captured on film. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Weekly Round-Up (12/18/11 - 12/24/11)

Little Sister (Robert Jan Westdijk) **1/2 - This is an interesting little Dutch film made around 1995, and it definitely shows. It was one of those films with the characters filming themselves. Once you get past the already tired gimmick, there are some good stuff in there. It's about a guy who tries to reconnect with his estranged sister with whom he has shared a traumatic incident in childhood. The film goes to all sorts of directions, some of which could render one queasy. But the performances are pretty good and the way it handled its subject matter is tasteful. This film strongly reminds me of Chuck & Buck in a way. I wonder if the latter film took inspiration from the former film.

Calle Mayor (Juan Antonio Bardem) ***1/2 - It's always nice to discover hidden gems. This is one of them. It's a Spanish film about a spinster (only in her mid-30's but considered an old maid in this particular time and place) who is a target of a very cruel prank by a group of bored middle-aged men. They get a guy to court her and propose marriage to her. The guy tries to back out when she falls in love with him for real. American actress Betsy Blair plays the woman and her dialogue was dubbed into Spanish but still her great performance shone through. It's a wonderful little-known film.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas! (...a bonus listology)

First of all, I'd like to greet all my readers a very Merry Christmas (or whatever other holiday you celebrate). This is a bonus listology where I present my Top 5 favorite Christmas movies. No, I did not forget It's a Wonderful Life, even though that may be a perennial Christmas staple. To be honest, I find that film a tad overrated (maybe it's because it's been overhyped for me when I saw it). But I do have an alternative Christmas feel-good film as a worthy substitute, along with four others. Here they are:

 05. A Christmas Tale (2008, Arnaud Desplechin)

For arthouse film lovers and people who are a little less than enthused about the holidays than most people (or both), this is the film for you. It's about a dysfunctional family who gather together for the Christmas celebration as one of their members (Catherine Deneuve, wonderful as always) gets a cancer diagnosis and is looking for a bone marrow match. Make no mistake: This is no manipulative tear-jerker of a film. It does go into all sorts of unpredictable, at times even dark and sometimes rather funny directions. It's a wonderful little film that can be viewed any day of the year.

04. Scrooged (1988, Richard Donner)

Not all critics and film buffs agree with this one but this is a personal favorite of mine. It also reminds me that Bill Murray is such a wonderful actor. It's basically the retelling of the classic A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens story in the modern setting and this time Scrooge is a TV executive. It's not a perfect film but it's got plenty of good holiday cheer coupled with Bill Murray's brand of humor.

03. The Shop Around The Corner (1940, Ernst Lubitsch)

Bickering co-workers fall in love with people they correspond with via mail, not knowing they're actually writing to each other. This is a classic Hollywood romantic comedy from its Golden Age. It features a strong ensemble cast led by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. Christmas does not actually figure into it until the third act but I still consider it a Christmas movie anyway. Beware the inferior 1998 remake, You've Got Mail.

02. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, Henry Selick)

There are lots of Christmas animated films from all sorts: Hand-drawn, stop-motion, CGI. But out of those which I've seen over the years, few have equaled but none have topped Henry Selick's and Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. From Danny Elfman's great score to the astounding visuals which ingeniously blends dark, creepy images with holiday cheer with equal glee. 

01. The Bells of St. Mary's (1945, Leo McCarey)
Like The Shop Around The Corner, Christmas does not actually figure into this film in its entirety but it's one of the major plot arcs in it. Nevertheless, I say that's good enough for me to qualify it as a Christmas film. This is actually a sequel to the Best Picture Oscar winner Going My Way however, I consider this film superior in every respect. It's about a priest who helps out a group of nuns run a parochial school. It's a sweet, humane, heartfelt film. It's A Wonderful Life is often credited as the feel-good holiday movie of all time. However, I felt that more strongly in this film than in that film. If any of you are sick of It's a Wonderful Life, I strongly suggest this as an alternative. You won't regret it.

Well, that's it. Just five since it's a "bonus" one. And again, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Great Scenes # 17: Network (1976)

Directed by Sidney Lumet

In many ways, Network is very much chillingly ahead of its time. No other scene illustrates this more than this scene where an executive, Arthur Jensen, brilliantly (if a bit over the top) played by Ned Beatty vents his rage on Howard Beale (Peter Finch). If you closely follow recent events from the financial disasters and the news of bought politicians in Washington, the words here are quite prophetic. This scene though relatively brief earned Ned  Beatty a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Weekly Round-Up (12/11/11 - 12/17/11)

Oops. Sorry for the delay.

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (Brad Bird) ***1/2 - When I heard that Brad Bird, one of my favorite animated feature directors who directed three winning animated features in a row, is going into live-action, I was thrilled and curious to see what he would bring to the table. When I found out his first foray into live-action would be the fourth Mission: Impossible movie, i was WAAAAHHHH?!?!? But my fears were unfounded because this is without a doubt the BEST Mission: Impossible movie to date. It took the good elements of the last one, built on it and Bird injected his humor (with the help of Simon Pegg) and gift for characterization. He creates a strong, solid escapist action adventure that at long last actually FEELS like an actual Mission: Impossible movie rather than a glossy vehicle for Tom Cruise to show how masculine and awesome he is at stunts.

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott) **** - This is actually my third or fourth time watching this in as many years. It's still a visually sumptuous breathtaking and very intriguing sci-fi epic. Probably one of Ridley Scott's very best works.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Awards Season

It's that time of year again. The weather's getting cooler. People are all abuzz, getting up early in the morning to see if they've gotten what they wanted. Yes, it's movie awards season. It's both my second favorite and my least favorite time of the year. As a film lover, I've learned that awards, in general, mean next to nothing. But it's still fun to predict them. Every year around this time, guilds, awards groups and critics groups gather around to celebrate the year in film by handing out awards. All of it in anticipation for the biggest movie award of them all: The Oscars. Sometimes, there's a very clear front-runner. Other times, there's not. Thankfully, this year is the latter which makes for a crazy and surprising awards season. The Golden Globe nominations have just been announced so I'd like to take this opportunity to give a rundown on the front-runners and dark horses for the Oscar.


Sure Bets: The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo.
Very Likely:  The Help, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, War Horse.
Dark Horses: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, The Tree of Life.

The rules for Best Picture has changed this year. The rules are way too complicated to explain but there could be anywhere from 5 to 10 nominees this year. There could 6, there could be 8. This is due to a new way of counting ballots.


Sure Bets: Michael Hazanavicius, Alexander Payne, Martin Scorsese.
Very Likely: Steven Spielberg.
Fighting For the Last Spot: Woody Allen, Bennett Miller, Terrence Malick.
Dark Horses: George Clooney, Stephen Daldry, Tate Taylor.


Sure Bets: George Clooney, Jean Dujardin, Brad Pitt.
Fighting for the Last Spots: Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Fassbender, Gary Oldman.
Dark Horses: Demian Bechir, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling, Thomas Horn.


Sure Bets: Viola Davis, Meryl Streep.
Very Likely: Michelle Williams.
Fighting for the Last Spots: Glenn Close, Tilda Swinton, Charlize Theron.
Dark Horses: Felicity Jones, Rooney Mara, Elizabeth Olsen.


Sure Bets: Christopher Plummer
Very Likely: Kenneth Branagh, Albert Brooks.
Fighting for the Last Spots: Jonah Hill, Ben Kingsley, Nick Nolte, Patton Oswalt, Max Von Sydow.
Dark Horses: Armie Hammer, Ezra Miller, Viggo Mortensen, Brad Pitt.


Sure Bets: Berenice Bejo, Octavia Spencer.
Very Likely: Jessica Chastain, Shaleine Woodley.
Fighting for the Last Spots: Melissa McCarthy, Janet McTeer, Vanessa Redgrave.
Dark Horses: Sandra Bullock, Marion Cotillard, Anjelica Huston.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Weekly Round-up (12/4/11 - 12/10/11)

Arthur Christmas (Sarah Smith) *** - There have been a lot of films on the Santa Claus legend. Some are better than others. This is one of the better ones. I was genuinely surprised by this one. I wasn't expecting much since we've all been here before but there's enough charm, wit, humor and visual delights that it makes it all seem fresh, probably due to the fact that it infused a certain British sensibility to the proceedings. I like it better than The Santa Clause and Elf.

The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman) **** - This is actually the second time I've seen this film so this is a rewatch since I own it on DVD. Yes, it's every bit as haunting and occasionally disturbing as when I first saw it but I also took note at how darkly humorous it is at times. It's a doom, gloom landmark film. It's not my favorite Bergman film but it's in the Top 5.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Great Scenes # 16: The Gold Rush (1925)

Directed by Charles Chaplin
Few film icons are more recognizable than Charlie Chaplin's the Little Tramp. The Gold Rush is one of the most famous films featuring the character. It contains many, many memorable scenes from the shoe eating scene to the fork and rolls dance. But my personal favorite scene is this one, a film which utilizes Chaplin's gift for physical comedy and at the same time adding a little bit of suspense.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Weekly Round-Up (11/27/11 - 12/3/11)

The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg) *** - The pedigree behind this film seems like a can't-miss: Directed by the guy who made Raiders of the Lost Ark, produced by the guy who made The Lord of the Rings and written by the guys who made Doctor Who and Shaun of the Dead. By all accounts, it *should* mind-blowingly awesome. Unfortunately, it falls short of that. But that's not to say that it's a bad film. It's actually a very, very good escapist eye candy flick which felt like the film the fourth Indiana Jones movie SHOULD have been. I'm only vaguely familiar with the source material so I can't really say how faithful it is, but as a movie, I had a great time and I was entertained. It flirts with greatness (one particular action scene near the end was pretty spectacular) but overall, it's just a very good escapist B-movie. No more, no less. I saw it in 3D. Very good 3D but I didn't feel like I would've missed anything had I seen it in 2D though.

Satan Met a Lady (William Dieterle) ** - This was Hollywood's second attempt to adapt Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, just right before John Huston's version. The plot is the same except for the fact that instead of a falcon, it's a horn filled with jewels and it's all played for laughs. This attempt at blending film noir and comedy has some good lines here and there and features an interesting performance by a young Bette Davis but it's ultimately a failure. An interesting failure but still a failure.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Listology # 3: 10 Best LGBT Films

LGBT. For those who don't know, it stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered. They have been depicted one way or another since, well, the beginning of film, believe it or not. (Carl Theodore Dreyer's silent film Michael) either explicitly or implicitly. I've seen a good number of them over the years. Here's a list. I define an LGBT film where the CENTRAL lead character is an LGBT person or has an LGBT relationship or something that involves the LGBT community is in the front and center of it. (And by coincidence I'm posting this on World AIDS Day which makes this post kind of relevant).

 10. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1976, Jim Sharman)

When a virginal heterosexual couple stumbles upon the castle of crossdressing pansexual Dr. Frankenfurter, all sorts of chaos ensue. This is a legendary cult film where people would attend midnight screenings, dress in costumes and throw things at the screen. It's simply a celebration of the freakish and the different. Tim Curry is simply iconic as Frankenfurter. This is one of the few things that would get a heterosexual male to crossdress.

 09. Lianna (1983, John Sayles)

This is one of writer-director John Sayles' more obscure films but it's also one of the earliest films that explicitly dealt with lesbianism head on in an honest, straightforward manner. It's about a housewife who realizes she's a lesbian and falls in love with her college professor.  It features excellent acting and neither sensationalizes nor judges the affair.

08. Angels in America (2003, Mike Nichols)

Some people may see this as cheating as this is an HBO miniseries but I don't care, it's my list. LOL. This is HBO's award-winning adaptation of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer and Tony-winning epic play on the AIDS crisis. Robert Altman tried to adapt it as a film years before but felt a 3-hour film wasn't sufficient to capture the essence and spirit of the very long play. I would've loved to have seen what Altman would've done with the material but what we got is pretty great, mostly due to the strong source material.

07. Dog Day Afternoon (1975, Sidney Lumet)

Many people don't think of Dog Day Afternoon as an LGBT film. But the plot is that of a bisexual man who robs a bank in order to fund the sex change operation of his male lover. So I'm thinking it totally qualifies. Surprisingly enough, it's based on a true story. Al Pacino gives one of his many great performances during the 1970's in this one.

06. Suddenly Last Summer (1959, Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

This is a superb screen adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play about a troubled young woman being evaluated by a psychiatrist after witnessing the death of her cousin Sebastian. I was hesitant to put this film on the list because the plot point which qualifies it is actually the big secret. But no matter, this is still a great film (even though the LGBT character isn't exactly a role model) and features Elizabeth Taylor and Katharine Hepburn giving some of their very best performances of their careers. It's very gutsy of Hollywood to have done this film in the late '50s. 

05. Mulholland Drive (2001, David Lynch)

Just like Dog Day Afternoon, most people don't really think of Mulholland Drive as an LGBT film per se despite the fact that one of its pivotal elements is a lesbian relationship. This is classic David Lynch. It's one of his most puzzling, beautiful and mad works in his filmography. Though it doesn't advance gay rights, it's still one hell of a film.

04. Brokeback Mountain (2005, Ang Lee)

Many people may be surprised this isnt' number 1. Well, I don't think it's the best but it's close. Ang Lee's film about a love affair between two cowboys spawned tons of controversy, jokes and parodies but I do believe one of its achievements is that it's really most people's first mainstream gay film and in its own way made the world a little less homophobic. On top of that, it features a memorable score and fantastic performances by the cast especially the late Heath Ledger.

03. Milk (2008, Gus Van Sant)

This is actually my favorite Gus Van Sant film and it's pretty much a straightforward biopic about the life of America's first openly gay elected public official, Harvey Milk. Despite it being fairly conventional (especially for a Gus Van Sant flick), the film is fascinating and absorbing. Sean Penn is great as Harvey Milk. I'm still torn between him and Mickey Rourke on the Best Actor Oscar that year.

 02. Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001, John Cameron Mitchell)

This film is based on the famous off-Broadway rock musical about the life of a glam rock singer who's an East German refugee and botched transsexual. Apart from the fantastic songs, you'd be surprised by how much you could relate to him/her despite his/her bizarre background. You're guaranteed to wanna purchase the soundtrack of this.

01. Bad Education (2004, Pedro Almodovar)

A movie director meets up with his childhood sweetheart/friend who has a bone to pick with the priest who molested him during his time in Catholic boarding school. Explaining further would be very convoluted and would give away the film's many twists and turns. Suffice to say that the best way to describe this film is it's a gay film noir. This is Almodovar at his very best.

RUNNERS-UP:  Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (2011, Jade Castro); Happy Together (1997, Wong Kar-Wai); My Own Private Idaho (1991, Gus Van Sant); Tropical Malady (2004, Apichatpong Weerasethkatul); Wild Reeds (1994, Andre Techine); The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (2005, Aureus Solito); Mysterious Skin (2004, Gregg Araki); For a Lost Soldier (1992, Roeland Kerboesch); Heavenly Creatures (1994, Peter Jackson); The Birdcage (1996, Mike Nichols).