Sunday, December 30, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (12/23/12 - 12/29/12)

The last round-up of the year.

The Grave Bandits (Tyrone Acierto) *** - Two young thieves who make their living stealing valuables from corpses in a cemetery gets chased into an island populated by people infected with an alien virus that cause them to attack and eat human flesh. This film is pretty much a comedic Slumdog Millionaire meets 28 Days Later. It's often funny and at times scary though tonally, it's all over the place and frankly, I didn't like the way they resolved one of the plot threads. However, the leads are appealing and this is a better film than Tiktik and features fantastic visual effects and makeup (The best I've seen in a Filipino movie thus far!

Thy Womb (Brillante Mendoza) ***1/2 - In the southern-most area of the Philippines, there live an ethnic group of Filipino Muslims called the Badjaos who make their home in villages on stilts in the coastal waters. This is where director Brillante Mendoza's latest opus is set. A barren Muslim midwife seeks a second wife for her husband in order for him to have his own child. This is actress Nora Aunor's comeback from a rather long hiatus from acting and I have to say: she's still got it. Her talents lends itself very well to Mendoza's neo-realist style. It's a fascinating look at a different culture right here in the Philippines and the humanity all of us share. It's also gorgeously shot and beautiful to look at.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (12/16/12 - 12/22/12)

First of all: Merry Christmas, my dear readers. Looks like we survived the Mayan Apocalypse. This is going to be a bit different from all the other round-up's because I'm not going to be reviewing any new films since I didn't see any in this week. Well, one film but it's for work and very seldom bother to review "work" films here unless it's something truly extraordinary either in a good way or bad way. 

Anyway, I'm also gonna post a link to an article I wrote for, a film website. I hope you all check it out:

Regular weekly-round-ups will resume again next week. Have a safe and happy holiday, everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Great Scenes # 45: Django (1966)

Directed by Sergio Corbucci

Django Unchained opens in the U.S. this Christmas so I thought this is the perfect time to showcase one of the films that inspired it. The Django in this one is not a slave but rather a vigilante for hire that the whores in a languishing hire to get rid of an oppressive crime lord and his minions. It's considered one of the best spaghetti Westerns ever made and this scene is what made me go, "OMG! That's awesome!" I'm sure Quentin Tarantino agrees.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (12/9/12 - 12/15/12)

Cloud Atlas (Andy Wachowski/Lana Wachowski/Tom Tykwer) ***1/2 - I haven't read the book but I've been told it's so gargantuan and complex it's widely considered to be unfilmable. Based on the film I've seen, I can definitely see why. There are many, many things to love and admire about this film. The sheer scope, complexity and ambition involved in interweaving six stories spanning millenniums featuring an ensemble cast performing multiple roles oftentimes changing age, race and even gender. For all its ambitions, it's still a flawed piece of work but with many, many moments of brilliance. It's obviously a risky, passion project that despite the fact that it's not 100 percent successful, it should still be seen as a somewhat of a masterpiece, a flawed masterpiece but a masterpiece by the three directors nonetheless. 

Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas) *** - (see below)

Amour (Michael Haneke) **** -  (see below)

Batang West Side (Lav Diaz) **** -  (see below)

Distortion (Nonzee Nimibutr) ** -  (see below)

Barbara (Christian Petzold) *** -  (see below)

Jan Dara: The Beginning (ML Bhandevanop Devakula) **1/2 - (see below)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson) *** - I'm a fan of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. It was only a matter of time before there was a film adaptation of The Hobbit. I went "hmmm" when I heard it was being split into two but I got very, very concerned when Peter Jackson was announced it was gonna be another trilogy. As for the film itself, it's not bad but it's nowhere near as great as any of the films of the original trilogy. Though it's seldom boring, the film does feel padded out. Though I must say the third hour (and when Gollum is on-screen) comes close the majesty of the original films. I saw this in 48 fps/HFR 3D. It felt weird at first but then I got used to it. Except for small number of shots, I felt it really wasn't needed to fully appreciate and enjoy the visuals. The CGI and makeup, however, looks and feels a bit more real and I jumped a couple of times. I will say it's optional. All in all, not a bad movie but falls short of the greatness of the original trilogy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

CineManila - Day 6

This is, sadly, the last day of the festival. Oh, well. Until next year!

Distortion (Nonzee Nimibutr)

This psychological thriller hails from Thailand. It's about a serial killer with a seeming personal vendetta against gay men who were high school friends and at the same time, a successful young psychiatrist is haunted by terrifying hallucinations and a young woman who he once helped as young girl get over sexual abuse in the hands of her own father. What do they have to do with one another? Well, that's where the film slowly but surely reveals. It's very high concept and I was interested about where it would go since it shows lots of promise in the first two acts then it unfortunately goes into predictable territory then goes for some plot twists which, at first, were pretty nice then another plot twist that's so freaking ludicrous, it doesn't make any sense and the entire film falls. It's too bad since it's pretty slickly made. (C)

Barbara (Christian Petzold)

An East German doctor, the title character, is banished to a country hospital and she plans to defect with her West German lover but things don't go quite as planned. I didn't really know much about the film and where it was headed but it turns out to be quite a lovely little humane film. Features a great performance by the lead actress. It kind of reminds me of The Lives of Others. It's not quite as great as that movie but it would make for a lovely double-feature. (B)

Jan Dara: The Beginning (ML Bhandevanop Devakula)

This is based on a Thai novel about a young boy who grows up in early 20th century aristocratic Thai family and is by his father after his mother dies in childbirth. Oh, and they have lots of sex. This is actually the second film version of the novel just this century, as it was made back in 2001 (coincidentally, by the same director of Distortion). This is a more detailed and faithful adaptation since it's just the first half of a two-part film. The lead actor, Thai heartthrob Mario Maurer, is only barely adequate and gets by with his good looks. However, the film is good enough that I'd like to actually see part 2. (B-)

Monday, December 10, 2012

CineManila - Day 5

Batang West Side (Lav Diaz)

A Filipino teenager is shot in the head in a sidewalk in New Jersey. A Filipino police detective is given the task to uncover the truth about the murder. The film is comprised mostly of flashbacks of family members, friends, witnesses and suspects. First released in 2001, this is one of the more recent Filipino masterpieces. Despite its infamous 5-hour running time and relatively slow pace, it never feels dragging or boring. It's a compelling, dense thought-provoking drama. It's GORGEOUSLY shot, a real work from a master filmmaker and with a fine ensemble of actors too. Word is that producers begged director Diaz to cut it down to three hours to make it more commercially viable but he refuses and frankly, it was a good call. I can't imagine cutting out a single hour from this magnificent piece of work. (A-)

Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki) 

This is from Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. It's about shoe shiner who finds himself the guardian of an escaped young illegal immigrant from Nigeria and he tries to help him evade authorities and get himself to London to get reunited with his mother. It's a serious issue but the film is given a decidedly light whimsical touch but never goes too broad or too serious. It kind of reminds me a bit for the Theo Angelopolous film Eternity and a Day but this is far more light-hearted. It's not my favorite but it's a very pleasant film. (B).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (12/2/12 - 12/8/12)

Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik) *** - A couple of idiots rob a illegal mob high-stakes card game and Brad Pitt plays the hit man tasked to clean the mess up, so to speak. Andrew Dominik's previous effort, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is a near-masterpiece and not an easy act to follow and he acquits himself well here. I don't understand the alleged "F" this film received by Cinema Score or something like that. It's far from a perfect film but it's beautifully shot and very well-acted (James Gandolfini is a stand-out). The financial crisis allegory was a bit too on-the-nose and it could have used more dark humor. 

Caesar Must Die (Paolo Taviani/Vittorio Taviani) *** - A group of prisoners put together a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. I read that the convicts that performed in this film were ACTUAL convicts which makes this film somehow even better. The entire "power of art" angle is nothing new (and the film doesn't do anything special with it) and the last line of the film mars it a little bit. But even so, you will find yourself swept up with both the narrative of the prisoner's story and the narrative of the play itself which the prisoners and convicts perform exceptionally well. 

Flashback Memories (Tetsuaki Matsue) ***1/2 -  (see below)

Television (Mostafa Sarwar Farooki) ***1/2  - (see below)

Juvenile Offender (Yi-kwan Kang) ***1/2 -  (see below)

Pusang Gala (Stray Cat) (Mario O'Hara) ***1/2 -  (see below)

The Great Cinema Party (Raya Martin) *** - (see below)

Light in the Yellow Breathing Space (Vimukthi Jayasundara) **1/2 - (see below)

CineManila - Day 4

Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas)

Set in the early '70s, it's about high seniors/college kids involved in leftist student activism. Olivier Assayas is starting to become one of my favorite directors and this one is probably my LEAST favorite so far (it's not easy to follow Summer Hours, I must say) but still, it's a very interesting piece of work (Is it autobiographical?). It's interesting in that it neither romanticizes nor does it condemn the youth activist movement. The performances by the young cast are pretty good though it seems to go on too long. (B)

Amour (Michael Haneke)

The story of Michael Haneke's latest opus is a simple one: After suffering a stroke which paralyzed half of her body, an elderly woman's loving husband tries to take care of her the best he could without going back to the hospital and we see her mental and physical deterioration. There have been many, many films about dealing with illness and a dying spouse but few match the emotion and power this film has. Michael Haneke's signature aesthetic of long, static takes and little to no musical score makes things more real and therefore more uncomfortable and more emotionally devastating. It also helps that the performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are both stunning, it's a beautiful performance duet between the two of them. It's often a tough sit, especially if you yourself have experienced something similar but it's one of the most rewarding cinematic experience you will ever have this year. Truly one of the best of year, perhaps even the decade. (A)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

CineManila - Day 3

Pusang Gala (Stray Cat) (Mario O'Hara)

This film is a "lost" film from the late, great Filipino director Mario O'Hara. It was made for television back in 2001 and has since been forgotten. It has recently been accidentally discovered and is now enjoying a new life as a lost piece by a great director. It's about a lovelorn sexually frustrated single woman who works as a caterer for TV and movie productions. She takes in a younger man and falls in love with him. Unfortunately, it's not reciprocated and of course complications ensue but not in the way you expect. Though the film's television origin and low budget shows at times, the themes tackled and the way shots are composed and executed are quite cinematic and features probably a career-best performance by Janice de Belen who plays the lead. This should fit in nicely with O'Hara's distinguished oeuvre. (B+)

The Great Cinema Party (Raya Martin)

This is one of those almost unrateable films since it is an art film with a capital A, a capital R and a capital T. It's from Raya Martin, one of the Philippines' famous avant-garde filmmakers. There is no plot to speak of. Basically it's about a group of cinephiles and filmmakers from all over the world gathering in the Philippines for a tour of a historical island of Corregidor followed by the party referred to by the title. It features cameos from famous Filipino indie directors like Lav Diaz and Brillante Mendoza.Watching the film is hard to describe. Best way I can put it is that it gives us a glimpse at what loving cinema is like in the Philippines and I can totally relate to it and the ending is oddly moving and joyous. (B+)

Light in the Yellow Breathing Space (Vimukthi Jayasundara)

This is one strange semi-feature (40 minutes long) film. At first, you would think it's about a young boy who comes home to spend time with his dying father. They go off into the woods. Then from there, it turns into something that I can best describe as The Tree of Life if it was directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It is gorgeously shot and attempts to tackle some heady themes in its short running as earnestly and honestly as possible but the film didn't quite work for me. Still, it's worth a look. (B-)

Friday, December 7, 2012

CineManila - Day 2

Juvenile Offender (Yi-Kwan Kang)

This is a real gem. It's a  Korean film about a troubled 16 year old juvenile delinquent whose mother (who gave birth to him as a teenager) resurfaces just after his grandfather, who had been raising, passes away. It's a familiar trope and contains SOME of the expected beats but goes into some surprising directions that's both realistic and poetic, in a way. The two lead actors are both outstanding. This is another festival film to keep an eye out on. (B+)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cinemanila - Day 1

Flashback Memories 3D (Tetsuaki Matsue)

This is a part concert film/part documentary about a Japanese didjeridoo player named GOMA who has brain damage sort of akin to Guy Pearce in Memento and it's all in 3D. Yes, you read that right. Mixing archival footage, animation, photographs, diary entries along with new concert footage, the film constructs a moving and inspiring story of a man overcoming tragedy. This could have easily have been done in a conventional narrative "inspiring beat-the-odds" type film or even a straightforward documentary. But this unique somehow makes it far more memorable and also emotional. It takes a bit to get into admittedly but once you get past your initial reservations, you will find yourself dancing and applauding along with the music. (A-)

Television (Mostafa Sarwar Farooki)

This is, I believe, the first film from Bangladesh I've ever seen. It's kind of brand-new also since it doesn't even have an IMDb page entry yet. I would advice everyone to keep an eye out for this since it's a wonderful little gem of a film. It's about an isolated island village in Bangladesh whose "chairman" is an ultra-conservative Muslim who despises most technology especially television and doesn't even allow photographs ("lifeless images are against Allah", according to him). His son, however, is in love with a girl who loves technology. The film's funny and charming which never demonizes its characters, despite showing the absurdity and tyranny of their beliefs. I highly recommend it. (B+)

The 14th CineManila International Film Festival

It officially started yesterday, December 5th and will go on through December 11th. It is a paradise for me since this is one of the few times a year I get to see some exciting, new films from all over the world. I volunteered for this festival 10 years ago and I always try to make it a point to catch it whenever I can. I shall be posting reviews in separate entries.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (11/25/12 - 12/1/12)

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas) **** - Three siblings argue and decide what to do with their mother's house and various properties after she passes away. It sounds like a bore but it's anything but. It's a beautiful, lovely, emotional film about loss, memories, family, the changing world and our changing lives. I found it melancholy but also quite life affirming and treats the subject without manipulation or cinematic sentimentality but still manages to be quite emotional. It's a lovely, unforgettable film.

24 City (Jia Zhangke) ***1/2 - I have been watching a few films that combines elements of documentary and narrative filmmaking lately. This one continues that trend. This film is a series of interviews of a group of people who have worked in Factory 420 in the Chengdu province of China which manufactured airplane parts. Some of the interviews are from real people. Some of it is from actors. Apart of Joan Chen's segments (who is excellent, her segments are the best in the film), I had trouble telling which is which. Some segments of course are better than others. But the film mostly works as a whole and it's gorgeously shot.

Rise of the Guardians (Peter Ramsey) ***1/2 - I haven't read the books it was based on but I do love the concept: Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and the Sandman teaming with a young whipper-snapper Jack Frost to defeat the Boogeyman. It falls slightly short of being as amazing as the concept sounds, HOWEVER, the film itself is still pretty darn good and features some GORGEOUS animation. Indeed, it's some of the best of the year. It's not gonna replace Nightmare Before Christmas as a multi-holiday animated flick but as it is, it's still a good time in the movies.

Genghis Khan (Manuel Conde) **** - This Filipino film from 1950 was thought to be lost until quite recently when viable prints were found in Europe and was restored. Featuring narration by critic James Agee, this epic historical drama about the rise Genghis Khan may not be completely historically accurate and the obvious low-budget at times show (which, IMO, adds to its charm) but the film is wonderfully shot and at times feels almost Kurosawa-like. Not a lot of Filipino films before 1970 still exists and it absolutely feels wonderful that this particular part of our cinematic heritage survived.

EDSA XXX (Khavn de la Cruz) *** - I don't feel completely comfortable reviewing this film since what I saw was a work-in-progress version shown out of competition at a Filipino film festival. The best way I can describe this film: Imagine Alejandro Jodorowsky was Filipino and made a sci-fi/political satire/musical. It's as bizarre as it sounds but, as it is, very enjoyable, breezy romp. It's set in a futuristic dystopian Philippines (now renamed Ek-Ek-Ek) where it's revealed four aliens are actually controlling the Philippine presidents. It's shot very low-budget completely on the historical island of Corregidor. Its strangeness is both an asset and a liability. Some of the stinging satire may be lost on some people. But the songs are pretty darn good and even in its unfinished state, it's made with a lot of passion and love.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Great Scenes # 44: Opening Night (1977)

Directed by John Cassavetes

Opening Night is my favorite John Cassavetes film, at least among those I've seen. It's one of his numerous collaborations with his wife, actress Gena Rowlands. In this film, Rowlands plays an actress who is troubled after she witnesses the accidental death of one of her self-proclaimed biggest fan. This scene, very much standout from most of the film, is an amusing stage performance between her and Cassavetes himself. What I love about this scene is that you can definitely sense the love, respect and affection they have for one another. The entire film is brilliant though, I encourage you all to see it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

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

Little Shop of Horrors (Frank Oz) ***1/2 - This was a rewatch. You know, I only found out recently that this film actually had a bleaker, wilder ending but was changed due to very bad test screenings. It was recently restored in the Blu-ray and I'm thinking of getting it. The film itself, even with the happy ending, is still pretty darn good black comedy/horror/musical featuring great early from Alan Menken and Howard Ashman who would go on to create unforgettable songs for Disney animated films.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (Mervyn LeRoy) ***1/2 - Paul Muni is quickly becoming one of my favorite American actors from the older, classic era. I've seen three of his films so different from one another, that I wouldn't believe that the same person has played them all (Scarface, Emile Zola and James Allen). A young man back from the war gets himself caught up in a robbery and gets sentenced to a chain gang. The film, being pre-code, is quite brutal in its depiction of hard prison labor. The injustice portrayed is enough to get anyone mad.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Bad Romance": The Trailer

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. So as a Thanksgiving treat, here's the trailer to Bad Romance, the film that I wrote. It's 5 minutes long, I know but Filipino trailers do tend to be this long:

Monday, November 19, 2012

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

My cinema viewing is restricted due to the fact that Breaking Dawn Part 2 is clogging up most of the theaters.

The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke) **** - Michael Haneke is definitely one of my favorite directors currently working today. He makes films that disturb and shock you but will also stay with you for days and really make you think. This is no exception. A series of mysterious "accidents" plague a rural German village at the dawn of the 20th century pre-World War I. The film shot in stark black & white eschews sensationalism and traditional narrative for a more subtle approach which can sink into your psyche far more effectively than conventional methods. Indeed, the film may seem slow and slight but the implications of it all is disturbing and thought-provoking. It's not my favorite Haneke (Cache still holds that honor) but the film still have everything I love and admire about his filmmaking. Oh, boy. I'm gonna be thinking about this movie again for days

Monday, November 12, 2012

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

Videodrome (David Cronenberg) **** - I confess. I actually didn't know much about this film's plot beforehand. All I knew was that it was David Cronenberg's horror movie/dark satire on television. So the directions the film went was highly surprising for me. James Woods plays a sleazy TV executive who runs a small-time cable network that specializes in sex and violence and stumbles upon something called Videodrome. The film features Cronenberg's signature body horror and shocking and gross effects. Despite being obviously dated, the film still manages to hold up.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Listology # 23: Top 5 Favorite Bond Films

2012 is the 50th anniversary of the James Bond franchise. To commemorate this and the of the latest Bond film Skyfall, here are my personal Top 5 favorite Bond movies based on the 14 which I've seen so far.

05. Goldeneye (1995, Martin Campbell)
This is the first James Bond movie I've seen on the big screen and is also the first outing of Pierce Brosnan in the title role. It's also the debut of Dame Judi Dench as M who gives that famous dressing down speech to Bond which reinvigorated the character for the modern era. It's best of Brosnan's four films as Bon.

04. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977, Lewis Gilbert)
I've heard lots of people say that they are not big fans of Roger Moore. I'm not sure he's that bad but even his naysayers would say that The Spy Who Loved Me is his best outing. For me, this has a lot of what I enjoy about James Bond: Great villains, beautiful women, neat gadgetry, etc. It also features my favorite Bond theme, "Nobody Does It Better".

03. From Russia with Love (1963, Terence Young)
After the first official James Bond movie Dr. No became a big hit, From Russia With Love followed. It's Sean Connery's second outing as 007 and is the probably the film that told people that this franchise is here to stay for a long, long while. It features one of my favorite Bond villains, Lotte Lenya as Rosa Klebb.

02. Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)
Yes, I know what you're thinking. "Already? It *just* came out!" Well, it is THAT good. Go out and see it. Now. 

01. Goldfinger (1964, Guy Hamilton)
Most critics and film buffs consider this the best James Bond of them all. And I agree with them. It has everything a James Bond movie should have: Excitement, sexuality and humor. The film is genuinely exciting, funny and outrageous (and that's a good thing). It deserves number one just for hearing Sean Connery go "Pussy" (referring to Pussy Galore). 

Runners-Up: Dr. No (The first that started the whole thing); Casino Royale (barely made the cut, it does feature my favorite Bond girl, Vesper Lynde played by Eva Green).

Monday, November 5, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (10/28/12 - 11/3/12)

Busyness, forgetfulness and general laziness prevent me from posting these on time.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Rouben Mamoulian) **** - This is my pick for my Halloween movie this year. The 1932 adaptation of the classic chiller features an Oscar-winning performance from Fredric March as the both characters. It's surprisingly racy and disturbing for its time which they got away with because it's pre-code. This was my second viewing of it and I just now noticed how inventive some of the POV camera angles were.

Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (Antoinette Jadaone) **** - A documentary/mockumentary about Lilia Cuntapay, a character actress who has appeared in numerous Filipino films, mainly in horror movies playing creepy old women, ghosts and ghouls. This film goes into very surprising directions. It takes a little while to realize it's not really a full-on documentary. It's a weird hybrid between a career retrospective and a Christopher Guest film. Indeed, I would call this the best Christopher Guest film Christopher Guest didn't direct. It is often very funny, at times heartbreaking and even moving...sometimes all at the same time. You're guaranteed to fall in love with this scary-looking old woman. It's a real must-see. 

Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore) **** - This is probably the best PIXAR movie PIXAR didn't do. That's a huge compliment. Well, the plot is, well, it's basically Toy Story with video games but that's not a bad thing at all. Wreck-It Ralph is a bad guy from a video game who wants to be a hero and of course complications ensue. It results in one of the most engaging, sweet, moving gorgeously animated films of the year. I'm no gamer and I have a fairly limited knowledge of video games though I caught a few references here and there. That being said, video game buffs will find tons of enjoyment here while non-gamers will simply be swept away by the story. A fantastic score too! Man, it's a strong year for animation.

Skyfall (Sam Mendes) **** - I've heard people say this is the best Bond film since Goldfinger. They are right. It ticks off everything a Bond movie should have: Outrageous, eye-popping action scenes? Check. Sexy ladies? Check. A great villain? Check. A good dose of humor? Check. A great theme song? Check, check, check and check. Add to all those checks is a more emotional hefty, rather complicated story and all of it shot by the great Roger Deakins. Seriously, as a cinephile, some shots here are jaw-droppingly gorgeous. This is Sam Mendes' first foray into pure action popcorn and winning an Oscar for the overrated American Beauty aside, I will argue that this is probably his best film work (from at least the ones I've seen) since he just dropped the need to Oscar-bait and concentrated to make a good film. And he did. Hope he goes into this direction from now on!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Great Films # 9: Vampyr (1932)

Directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer

It's been a while since I've done a "Great Films" blog entry. Since it's Halloween, I might as well do a horror film. But this is an older, classic horror film, Vampyr. It's a one of a kind film. It's practically silent which was a conscious artistic decision because sound has been the norm for a few years at this point. There's also no on-screen violence either but the atmosphere produced is very creepy. There were a couple of shots here that sent chills down my spine. It's not a conventional horror film even by today's standards. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (10/21/12 - 10/27/12)

Frankenweenie (Tim Burton) **** - The fact that this is not doing very well at the box-office is one of the reasons that makes me hate people. Tim Burton's feature-length animated adaptation of his own early short film that's whimsical (relatively) kid-friendly take on the Frankenstein trope is probably his most personal film since Ed Wood and his best film sinceSweeney Todd. It's scary, funny, moving and really sweet and very lovingly made. It features some really awesomely clever references to classic horror films of the past that makes the child and the movie geek in me very happy. It stunningly animated and the fact that it's black & white makes me love it even more.

Lawless (John Hillcoat) **1/2 - A film about moonshine bootleggers during the Prohibition era in the countryside should make for a really, really good movie. This one all had elements of what could have been. Sometimes it felt like The Untouchables which would have been quite awesome. But unfortunately, the film falls short of it for its major flaws. One of them is Shia LaBeaouf who simply is not a very strong actor (at least not yet). It's too bad because most of the supporting cast is really strong. Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain especially but they only serve to highlight how weak Shia is, compared to them. Guy Pearce's portrayal of the main antagonist borders on being out of place and campy, and way too mustache-twirly for me. Gary Oldman is also great but unfortunately his screen time is pretty much a cameo.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Great Scenes # 43: Ringu (1998)

Directed by Hideo Nakata

This scene when I first saw it actually creeped the hell out of me. So much so that I slept with the lights on that night and I was already well into my 20's! Ringu is probably the best contemporary Japanese horror film and pretty much kicked off a mini-phenomenon of high-concept, unique supernatural horror films from that country, some of which are so popular, they get remade in Hollywood. The Hollywood version of this film was not horrible however, one thing it lost is the Japanese/exotic atmosphere that adds an extra layer of creepiness to the proceedings.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (10/14/12 - 10/20/12)

Black Bread (Agusti Villaronga) *** - A young boy witnesses a horrific crash that kills his friend and his friend's father and he discovers some unpleasant secrets surrounding his parents and the townspeople. This is a very old-fashioned film that sort of reminds me of the sort of period European films that usually win Oscars during the 70's, 80's and 90's. That's not to say that's it's bad film. It's pretty good. But it feels very been-there-done-that and I've seen films of the same vein that are a lot better. However, it's worth watching for the wonderful central performance of Francesc Colomer as the boy.

Looper (Rian Johnson) **** - An exhilarating and surprising twist on the time travel lore. This time it mixes it up with a crime thriller and even a little bit of neo-noir. All you need to know really is that it's about a group of young men assigned to kill people sent back by the mob using time travel. It has been compared to stuff like The Matrix, X-Men and Blade Runner but call me crazy but I think it's a Hollywood popcorn movie version of La Jetee and Stalker. The cast is strong. It's definitely a film which will be seen again and talked about for years. Rian Johnson is one hell of a filmmaker.

Argo (Ben Affleck) **** - With Pearl Harbor and Gigli all but a distant memory, Ben Affleck continues his ascent to be one of contemporary cinema's best filmmakers with this dramatization of an incredible (and not to mention unbelievably crazy) rescue of six stranded Americans during the Iranian hostage of the late '70s/early '80s. The film is balanced and nuanced, never falling into the Yay, America flag-waving when it could have easily have done it. Despite the fact that you know the ending, the film was able to create tension and suspense, an amazing directorial feat. Plus it packs an emotional wallop. It's one of the best films of the year.

Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles (Erik Matti) **1/2 - This is dubbed as the Philippines' first ever green-screen film (a la 300 and Avatar). I have to say it was a really good try. The film is about a dysfunctional (sort of) family being attacked by aswangs, a Filipino/Southeast Asian creature that's like a blend of a vampire, zombie and werewolf. It's a horror comedy and there are lots of witty and funny horror moments and some really cool action scenes but some unbelievable lapses in logic and the feeling that the script is rather padded out keeps me from declaring this a complete winner.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Great Scenes # 42: Fantasia (1940)

Directed by Various

Fantasia is not really a horror movie but it does contain a horror-movie type portion in the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence. I have to say that as a kid, this sequence genuinely frightened me (in a good way). As an adult, I've come to appreciate the artistry of the animation. It is, in fact, a rather genuinely scary sequence! 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (10/7/12 - 10/13/12)

Sorry for the delay.

End of Watch (David Ayer) ***1/2 - There have been many movies and TV shows made about cops, both good and bad, and its various iterations. This one does not really break new ground apart from its found-footage conceit (well, mostly anyway). But thanks to the compelling, believable performances by its two leads, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, the film overcomes the potentially tiresome familiar tropes and actually makes the film into a funny, thrilling and very human look into the lives of essentially good cops. 

Give Up Tomorrow (Michael Collins) ***1/2 - This is a documentary made in the tradition of The Thin Blue Line and Paradise Lost. It's about the miscarriage of justice, only this time it hits close to home for me. It tells the story of a young man (and 6 others) who were convicted of the brutal murder and rape of two young women but this guy could not have possibly committed it since the murders happened in Cebu and he was clearly seen in Manila, the capital city in a whole other island, by 40+ witnesses.. An eye-opening look into the justice system of my country. I always knew that there's lots of corruption and disgusting things happening in our government but I had no idea it was THIS bad. It's disturbing, infuriating and heartbreaking.

Brick (Rian Johnson) ***1/2 - With Looper coming out in my country next week, I've decided to familiarize myself with this director with a rather substantial fan base. All I've seen from him was his two episodes of Breaking Bad (which were great but indicates little of his own unique voice). So I checked out his directorial debut and man, he's one talented mofo. This film is basically a film noir set entirely in a contemporary high-school complete with a noirish plot and Dashiell Hammett-style dialogue. It is a cinematic stylistic exercise but it's got enough substance and character that it resonates on its own as a film. It's a terrific piece of work.

Sinister (Scott Derrickson) *** - The haunted house subgenre is given a refreshing twist in this horror film involving a true crime moving into a house and finding a bunch of disturbing home movies that depict vicious murders of entire families. I have to say that the set-up and the first two acts of this film are genuinely and refreshingly creepy and disturbing, just the way great horror films of this type are. Ethan Hawke gives a terrific performance on top of that. Unfortunately the film falls apart in its conclusion which is fairly derivative and predictable which is too bad because it made a potentially great horror film into merely just good. 

Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore) *** - The film's plot is about as predictable, formulaic and cheesy as an episode of Glee. However, the film's strength comes from its funny script, the strong ensemble of actors who sell the material (most especially the hilarious Rebel Wilson who steals the picture) and its inherent, endearing charm plus the fact that its actors can really sing and dance quite impressively (someone cast Anna Kendrick is more musicals please!). It's far from perfect but it's still quite goofy fun for everyone except the most hardcore anti-musical fan.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Great Scenes # 41: Cat People (1942)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur

In celebration of Halloween, all the films on my "Great Scenes" ("Great Films" for that matter) will be horror movies. The first one is classic Val Lewton-produced classic Cat People directed by Jacques Tourneur. In this film, Simone Simon plays a woman cursed with a terrible secret: She belongs to a tribe of people who transform into a vicious large cat every time they feel a strong emotion (sexual arousal, anger, jealousy, etc.). In this famous scene from the film, she sees the man she desires talking to another woman. The woman goes off on her own in a dimly lit street and she feels someone or someTHING stalking her. This scene is a perfect example of how atmosphere, imagination and sound effects can really be a far more effective in producing scares than cheap gore and CGI monsters. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (9/30/12 - 10/6/12)

Alien (Ridley Scott) **** - I bought the Alien Anthology Blu-ray set and I decided to watch the extended director's cut of Alien, a film I've seen a couple of times before. It's still a thrilling, wonderful shocker of a sci-fi horror film which, really, must be seen by everyone.

Ted (Seth MacFarlane) *** - The way I feel about this film is the same way I feel about its writer-director-co-star Seth MacFarlane - hit and miss. There are some really, really funny sequences here in this rude and crude tale of a man who lives with his talking teddy bear who came to life after a magical childhood wish. MacFarlane's style of blending shock/crude humor with pop culture references lends itself well....only SOME of the time but enough to make this film quite watchable. It also has some uncharacteristic sweetness and some depth thrown in for good measure.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I'm a cyber criminal

This is one of the few non-movie related blog posts that I'll be posting here. I feel that this issue is just way too important to not write about in this venue. Starting today, October 3rd, an unjust law is enacted in my country, the Philippines. The Anti-Cybercrime Law. At first, it's a fairly good law, since it aims to fight online fraud, human trafficking, child pornography, etc. But a duplicitous senator for reasons that's gonna be way too long to write about here, threw in at the last minute, to include LIBEL as one of the crimes punishable by this law. The way the law is written is very vague on its definition of what constitutes "libel" and imposes very heavy punishment and fines for people found guilty of this crime. Basically, the way the law is read, it could very well be used as a weapon by the government or by people of authority, wealth and power to go after anyone who writes anything bad about them and not only that, it also implicates anyone who ever shared, retweet or liked that "libelous" statement. Our country is supposed to be democracy where we freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The fact that we have this law that's causing us to tiptoe around what we say online is a violation of that freedom. As an artist, or at least an aspiring artist, and a writer, freedom of speech is an important cause for me so I have to say my piece. JUNK THE ANTI-CYBERCRIME LAW!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (9/23/12 - 9/29/12)

Gomorra (Matteo Garrone) ***1/2 - This film was a bit surprising. It was a lot less violent than I thought it would be. However, what violence there is was quite disturbing and unpleasant and there is always an aura of uneasiness that envelopes the entire film, which is basically five intertwining stories involving an Italian organized crime syndicate. I've heard it described as an Italian The Wire (minus the cops). I have to say it's not inaccurate. It's an excellently made film. Can't wait to see more from this director. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky) ***1/2 - I haven't read the book but despite the fact that I've been told that it's quite excellent, the plot didn't really make excited to see the film version despite the pretty good cast and the fact that the author himself is adapting AND directing it. But surprise, surprise, it's quite good. The film ri andses above the teen movie cliches through its intelligence and its honesty. It's funny and heartfelt and tackles some of the more touchy subject matter free of preachy-ness and histrionics. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller deliver superb performances. Despite some flaws here and there, the film is an overall success.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Great Scenes # 40: The Pink Panther (1963)

Directed by Blake Edwards

Actor Herbert Lom, the man who hilariously and famously portrayed Chief Inspector Dreyfus in the Pink Panther series has just passed away very recently and that inspired me to feature this film in my Great Scenes series. This is the first of the many, many funny series of films featuring Inspector Clouseau as a bumbling, clumsy detective. This takes place during the climax of the film where a costume party culminates in a chase scene. What's hilarious is that it's seen from a perspective of an ordinary pedestrian crossing the street after going in a bar so it ingeniously amps up the absurdity of the chase scene with crazy costumes. It's just a testament to the comedic instinct of director Blake Edwards.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (9/16/12 - 9/22/12)

Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard) *** - Okay. I'm not a fan of the directorial work of Ron "Opie" Howard. He's such a dull connect-the-dots, perfunctory director that it's occasionally even offensive. But surprise, surprise, I have to say this film is his best film work since Apollo 13. It's almost as if the talky nature of the material has probably forced him to be more cinematic. But what makes this film pretty damn good is not Opie's direction but rather the stunning performance of Frank Langella who, in real life, doesn't look anything like Richard Nixon and barely resembles him even in prosthetics but his performance is quite convincing and he creates a well-rounded human character, beyond just a caricature. Michael Sheen is likewise also fantastic as David Frost and matches him. It's not a cinematic landmark but it's a surprisingly solid film.

Hero (Zhang Yimou) **** - Revisited this earlier in the week. It's still a visually sumptuous martial arts flick. On Blu-Ray, it loses very little of its majesty from the big screen. It's highly recommended. 

Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris) ** - Quirky indie dramedies are strictly a hit or miss for me. For every (500) Days of Summer (which I love), there's a Garden State (which I loathe). Unfortunately for this film, it's more the latter rather than the former. It's quite a novel idea: A blocked neurotic one-hit wunderkind writer dreams up a fictitious girl and she materializes in real life. Lots of potential for greatness in the idea but could go wrong in many different ways. And it does despite a few good moments. The film starts off rather Woody Allen-esque in its magic realism conceit but it goes off the rails when it tries for something unique and some depth, it results in a scene which comes off as borderline distasteful and jarring. Paul Dano tries his best and is rather good. I don't buy Zoe Kazan as a "dream girl" and the strong supporting cast is wasted.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Listology # 22: Top 10 Films of 2008

I apologize that I've been slow in posting lately.

10. In Bruges (Martin McDonagh)

Great black comedies have been hard to come by lately. So this film was a breath of fresh air. The film kicks off with a shocking, violent death of a young child yet still manages to make you laugh. That's something special right there. It's about a hit man whose accidental killing of a young boy leads him to be suicidal. Colin Farrell gives probably one of his career-best performances in this remarkable little gem of a film. 

9. Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle)
This was a surprise hit of 2008. A little film by English director Danny Boyle featuring a mostly unknown Indian cast became a huge juggernaut in the Oscar-season and won a near-sweep 8 awards. It's a lovely feel-good tale about a young man who joins the Indian Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? game show in order to try and find his lost love. It's a hokey fairy tale for sure but in the hands of Danny Boyle, it becomes gritty and stylish as well. 

8. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
I was not a big fan of Batman Begins so I wasn't really looking forward to this all that much, even with Heath Ledger's last completed performance. But I saw it and I was very impressed. It's a really dark film especially for what is technically a superhero movie. Heath Ledger deservedly won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance which I think would have happened anyway had he not tragically died. 

7. Hunger (Steve McQueen)
This film does not introduce its lead character until half hour into the film. It also contains a really long scene with just two people talking (pictured above). It tells the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA hunger striker. The film is of course challenging to sit through because, like what I described above, this is not a film which follows Hollywood conventions. This is also the film that introduced the world to Michael Fassbender, who has since become one of world cinema's biggest actors. 

6. The Band's Visit (Eran Kolirin)
An Egyptian (i.e. Muslim) band gets lost while trying to find their way to their gig, playing at a special function in Israel. They find themselves temporarily stuck in a small Israeli (i.e. Jewish) town. This film does not ram down a message down your throat but naturally expresses it through its story and its characters. It's a lovely, slice-of-life film which celebrates the humanity of their characters despite their differing races and creeds. 

5. Milk (Gus Van Sant)
I often find that biopics are mediocre films which are often dreadfully formulaic and designed to make their stars win Oscars. Yet here I am, placing two biopics in my Top 10 but these biopics somehow escape those trappings. This time around, it's about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected into public office and whose life was also tragically cut short by violence. Sean Penn gives an amazing performance and he is helped by an extremely strong supporting cast (Josh Brolin, James Franco and Emile Hirsch were all amazing) and Gus Van Sant's direction keeps it from being just another lame biopic. 

4. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin)
A matriarch of a rather dysfunctional French family is diagnosed with cancer and must find a bone marrow match during a Christmas gathering. Now, at the hands of less-than-capable writer-director this film will inevitably dissolve into a formulaic, manipulative film which will wring in the tears of its audience. This film does not. It's not afraid to make its characters unsympathetic and eschews sentimentality but still manages to make you care for them. Catherine Deneuve heads the strong ensemble of actors. 

3. The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky)
On paper, this film didn't sound too appealing for me: An aging professional wrestler, down on his luck, wishes to reconnect with his estranged daughter. But thanks to director Darren Aronofsky and the stunning performance of Mickey Rourke (whose career was given a jump-start thanks to this film), it is an gut-wrenching and emotional piece of work. The last scene is quite haunting and moving. 

2. Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson)
If Twilight gave you a distaste for human-vampire love stories, this movie will restore your faith in that particular sub-genre. Based on a best-selling novel, this great Swedish horror film is about a young boy who befriends a peculiar young girl who happens to be a centuries-old vampire. It's a sweet coming-of-age drama  and it's also a scary, frightening and disturbing horror film. I would put this as one of the vampire movies ever made. 

1. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)
Speaking of love stories, how about a love story between two robots? That's exactly what WALL-E is about and more. I'm a huge fan of PIXAR and they have made a lot of great work and this one, I believe, is one of their flat-out masterpieces. It's funny and moving but also stunningly beautiful. The first act which features almost no dialogue is triumphant achievement in visual storytelling and sound design that is simply remarkable. It's a great, great piece of work. 

Runners-up: Gran Torino (Clint Eastwood); Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo Del Toro); The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (David Fincher); Appaloosa (Ed Harris); Kung Fu Panda (John Stevenson/Mark Osborne). 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (9/9/12 - 9/15/12)

Captive (Brillante Mendoza) ***1/2 - Director Brillante Mendoza's latest opus is about a group of people vacationing in a Philippine beach resort taken hostage by a fundamentalist Filipino-Muslim separatist terrorist group, the Abu Sayyaf. Isabelle Huppert plays a French Christian social worker. Just like with Mendoza's previous work, Kinatay, this is a challenge to get through. The film unfolds unconventionally, foregoing the expected narrative trappings and instead lets the film just happen, almost documentary-style (it is quite loosely based on a true story that actually happened). It's this structure that makes the film a trial to sit through, at times excruciating but people open to Mendoza's style (an increased budget allows him to be more visually gorgeous this time around) will find the film rather rewarding and thought provoking as both the hostages and their captors are humanized throughout. Not my favorite Mendoza film but a solid entry nevertheless. Huppert is of course predictably outstanding. It helps that Brillante is fantastic with actresses.

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard) ***1/2 - This got a theatrical release here but I opted not to see it since I heard it was butchered by the distributors. I'm so glad I did. I can't imagine watching this with the gore (and to a lesser extent, the nudity) toned down. But beyond that, this film is a wonderfully clever deconstruction of the horror genre, more so than, dare I say, Scream. I don't wish to reveal too much of the plot. Part of the joy here is to let all the unexpected twists and turns to unfold before your eyes. It's equal parts funny and scary with co-writer and producer Joss Whedon's quality stamp all over it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Great Scenes # 39: Manhattan (1979)

Directed by Woody Allen

This week marks the 11th anniversary of 9/11. What more appropriate tribute to the lives lost in the tragedy than by featuring one of the best films about New York City, Woody Allen's Manhattan. It is arguably one of his flat-out masterpieces. It starts with this legendary opening montage which, I believe, is a pure cinematic love letter to New York City. 

Weekly Round-Up (9/2/12 - 9/8/12)

ParaNorman (Chris Butler/Sam Fell) ****- This film caught me by surprise. I never thought I would *love* this as much as I did. A misfit young boy sees ghosts and is taken to task to save his town from a witches' curse. It's visually gorgeous stop-motion animation combined with modern-day CGI. It's got lots of funny, scary (yes, scary) and sweet moments along with very clever winks at classic horror films. I see that this is not doing that gangbusters at the box-office but I do think this has the potential to have a strong cult following a la Nightmare Before Christmas. It's my favorite animated film of the year so far and one of the best films of year so far period.

Keane (Lodge Kerrigan) **1/2 - A mentally unstable man struggles with the supposed loss of his daughter as he befriends a single mom and her young daughter. It's a low-budget indie drama but fairly predictable and standard. It's made watchable by the great performance of Damian Lewis.

(NOTE: I could have sworn I posted this earlier.)