Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Great Movies # 3: Wallace & Gromit in The Wrong Trousers (1993)

Wallace and Gromit - The Wrong Trousers
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I love the Wallace & Gromit claymation cartoons produced by animation great Aardman Studios. Among all of them, this one is probably my favorite. This very deservedly won the Oscar for Best Animated Short. It's very funny and contains one of the best action chase scenes ever filmed that had me laughing and applauding at the same time. It's only half an hour long so you really have no excuse not to see it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (5/20/12 - 5/26/12)

The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius) **** - I wanted to see this film for the first time on the big screen theatrically. I wait and I wait. It doesn't look like it's gonna happen. So I thought, fuck it, I'll just see the damn thing on DVD. However, I made a promise to myself that I will see it on the big screen again if I like it enough. I'm happy to say that I do really like it enough that I would definitely see this again should there be a theatrical run. I can see how it won Best Picture. This is a (mostly) silent film made in the style of the classic silent films. However, it never feels like a gimmick because the story feels like it should be told this way. It's very lovingly made and superbly acted by the two leads. As a lover of film, I smiled throughout most of it. This is a very worthy Best Picture winner, I must say (even though I like two of the nominees a little better). Gotta love that Uggie the Dog though.

Men in Black 3 (Barry Sonnenfeld) *** - This movie was a very pleasant surprise. It really shouldn't be good. I mean, I'm a fan of the first one which was a really fun romp. The second one was was really kind of blah. When I heard that there's gonna be a third one, I thought it was joke and expected the worst. Well, surprise, surprise, it's actually kind of good. It's not as good as the first one of course, but the crazy alien shenanigans work. Josh Brolin is terrific. He does a good job channeling Tommy Lee Jones yet is able to give an actual performance beyond just a impersonation.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Listology # 16: Top 10 Films of 2004

10. Moolade (Ousmane Sembene)
This is the first film I've seen from the country of Senegal and is directed by one of the most prominent filmmakers in all of Africa, Ousmane Sembene. It's not a documentary. It's a fiction narrative but it tells a very real story and problem in Africa of female circumcision. It's a dead serious topic but the film manages to inject humor and the film is very colorful and endlessly fascinating. It's one of the wonderful things about cinema, it opens our eyes to other cultures we would otherwise remain ignorant about.

9. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino)
The second half of Quentin Tarantino's martial arts movie inspired revenge epic may not have as much action scenes as the first one but it's still a pretty damn good and very satisfying conclusion to the saga of the Bride. Uma Thurman is still terrific but David Carradine gives a beautiful, layered performance as Bill. 

8. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Alfonso Cuaron)
I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. More the books than the films though. The films have been good but only some of them were GREAT. This is one of the great ones. The Harry Potter movie series did not benefit from a singular vision of an auteur unlike the Lord of the Rings series. But an auteur did breathe life into the franchise. Director Alfonso Cuaron built the foundation which the subsequent films expounded on and that's why they're successful and critically acclaimed. 

7. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright)
Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost broke through and made their mark in the world of cinema with this fantastically hilarious tribute to and a spoof of zombie movies. It is a laugh-riot through and through with plenty of clever gags. This is definitely one to see again and again and it's one of my personal favorite comedies.

6. Kinsey (Bill Condon)
Biopics are usually cliched, dull, predictable Oscar-bait movies. But not this one. This is a fascinating film on the life of Alfred Kinsey, a renowned scientist best known for his groundbreaking study on human sexuality. The film avoids being too dry or way too lascivious or sensationalistic but instead gives a very honest, tasteful treatment of its subject matter. Liam Neeson, Laura Linney and Peter Sarsgaard give great performances as well. 

5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry)
I know the name in the parentheses is Michel Gondry who directed this film but I think the REAL creator of this particular film is screenwriter Charlie Kaufman who after Being John Malkovich and Adaptation turns in probably his best work to date. It's a really strange but wonderful romantic-comedy about a man who tries to wipe memories of an ex-girlfriend only to find himself fighting it as he's undergoing the process. It's surrealistic yet it's emotionally involving. Kate Winslet is terrific as the girl but Jim Carrey gives one of his career-best performances in this film.

4. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring (Kim Ki-Duk)
Korea has been producing her share of really interesting films this century and this is just one of the many, many ones out there. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring tells a rather cyclical story (like the title) about a Buddhist monk and his apprentice living in a floating monastery. The tragic and joyful moments are beautifully captured on film by director Kim Ki-Duk. It's highly recommended.

3. Before Sunset (Richard Linklater)
The sequel to Before Sunrise is every bit as great and in some cases even better than the original. Like the original, the film is basically a conversation between two people who connected that unforgettable couple of days years before. We catch on what happened since and they connect once again. I particularly loved the ending of this one. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are so great on-screen together. 

2. The Incredibles (Brad Bird)
As I've written before, I loved The Avengers but I do think The Incredibles is still my favorite superhero movie. This is just another jewel in the crown of PIXAR Animation Studios and this time, it's teamed up with another animation genius, Brad Bird who brings to life a fun, witty, exciting, action-packed animated movie that pretty much blows most other live-action action movies away. 

1. Bad Education (Pedro Almodovar)
I often like to compare PIXAR with director Pedro Almodovar since he too had a really awesome streak of movies around the same time as PIXAR. This is also another jewel in his crown. This is essentially is a gay film noir. It's about a young film director who gets a visit from a childhood friend from Catholic school and a complex web of sex and deceit and the blurring of reality and fantasy happens. It's dark, disturbing and rather explicit but it is one of my favorite films of the year.

Runners-Up: Sideways (Alexander Payne); Mean Girls (Mark Waters); I Heart Huckabees (David O. Russell); Million Dollar Baby (Clint Eastwood); Vera Drake (Mike Leigh).

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Great Movies # 3: The Son (2002)

This is in my Top 10 of 2002. If you have 90 minutes to spare, please do take the time to watch this film. It's by the Dardenne Brothers, a filmmaking duo known for their quiet, sparse but often thought-provoking and powerful dramas. This is no exception. It's best to not know anything about this film beforehand because it will heighten the suspense and emotional impact of the ending. All you need to know is that it's about a wood shop instructor who takes on a boy as an apprentice. That's all. Also, have patience with it since the film takes its time to tell its story

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (5/13/12 - 5/19/12)

Naked (Mike Leigh) *** - This is unlike any film of Mike Leigh's I've seen so far. It's dark and gritty. It's about a man whose botched sexual encounter has him fleeing to his old girlfriend's house. There are some darkly humorous moments. What makes this film well-worth seeing though is the simply outstanding performance by David Thewlis. It truly is incredible.

Life Is Sweet (Mike Leigh) *** - This is a rather sweet (pun intended) film. A wonderful ensemble of actors (aren't Mike Leigh films inhabited by great ensembles?) bring to life a tale of a working-class family who have their own unique problems. There are funny moments, sad moments and sometimes funny-sad moments but they're endlessly fascinating. Not my favorite Mike Leigh film though.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Peter Lord) *** - An amusing stop-motion animated feature about a pirate who wants to get a huge booty so to speak. It's still a far-cry from Aardman Studios' best works, namely the Wallace & Gromit but this one has enough going for it to merit a recommendation. It also features great voice work especially by Hugh Grant whose voice I barely recognized as the Pirate Captain. There are quite a few good laughs and the animation's fun to watch but what makes this movie is Mr. Bobo the Chimp who is running a close second to Gromit as Aardman's best animated character.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bad Romance (2013) a film written by yours truly

Yes, I'm an aspiring screenwriter and a script that I wrote is going to become a independent feature film directed by a friend of mine, Ian Del Carmen. But as with any independent film, we need a little help in the financial side so if you're rich or know someone rich and can spare a few bucks, please do help us out. Here's the link with all the details:

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Great Scenes # 31: Se7en (1995)

Directed by David Fincher

If you haven't seen Se7en, DO NOT WATCH THE CLIP. It's a hell of a lot better if you don't know what's coming. It's a gruesome, memorable and shocking ending yet we hardly see any blood and there's no violence until the end. It's this ending that made the film its now classic status on par with The Silence of the Lambs. Kevin Spacey is fantastic as the villain.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (5/6/12 - 5/12/12)

The Wings of Eagles (John Ford) *** - This film is based on the life and writings of Frank "Spig" Wead, a Navy man turned author and screenwriter whom John Ford had worked with. He passed away a few years prior to the release of the film and this was made in loving tribute to him. And though it's far from being my favorite John Ford picture, it's still a very heartfelt film. Moments of humor is quite smoothly interspersed with more serious moments and doesn't get overly sentimental and flag-waving-y. It doesn't really break new ground but its heart was in the right place.

Weekend (Andrew Haigh) ***1/2 - I've heard people describe this as a gay Before Sunrise and I would definitely agree. I would also argue that this also feels like a feature-length episode of Queer as Folk only actually good. Two gay men have a one night stand after meeting in a club and their relationship eventually stretches to an entire weekend. It's intelligent, layered and even sweet and features two great central performances.

Dark Shadows (Tim Burton) **1/2 - Now, I'm a huge fan of Tim Burton, I make no secret of that but even I was turned off and disappointed with the eyesore that was Alice in Wonderland. This is actually an improvement. Not much of an improvement but still an improvement. Tim Burton's film adaptation of the supernatural soap opera series contains some really good moments. Johnny Depp and Eva Green both give fun performances. There are some good laughs in there too. But unfortunately the entire thing is so tonally off. It wants to be both a gothic horror romance and a broad horror-comedy but does not seem to find the right balance to let it flow and that wacky over-the-top climax came from nowhere. But still, it's nowhere near Burton and/or Depp's worst. I enjoyed it.

21 Jump Street (Phil Lord/Chris Miller) *** - Now this movie was a blast. A movie adaptation of a TV series from the 1980's is of course a lame idea and the great thing about this movie is that it acknowledges it and decides to have fun with the concept of police officers going undercover in a high school. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill both make a great team and makes for a really funny action-comedy which actually pokes fun at many tropes of action-comedies. It really shouldn't work but it does.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Great Movies # 2: Nosferatu (1922)

This is a spooky horror classic. F.W. Murnau wanted to adapt Dracula for film but could not get the rights to it. So, what does he do? He makes the movie anyway. He changed the title and the names but the story is essentially the same. For the role of Count Drac-- err, I mean, Count Orlok, he cast actor Max Schreck whose lanky frame and scary makeup makes for one of the spookiest on-screen vampires ever captured on film.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Listology # 15: Top 10 Films of 2003

10. Dogville (Lars Von Trier)
This is an extraordinary but at same time a maddening film. It's shot on digital cameras inside of a practically threadbare sound stage with very minimal sets and props with chalk outlines often substituting for scenery. It's got a huge ensemble of actors, many of them A-list headed by Nicole Kidman who gives one of her career-best performances. It tells the story about a small town in America who decide to provide sanctuary to a woman on the run from the mob. Off this conceit, Lars Von Trier launches into scathing attack on American society and the nature of people in general. It's a love-it-or-hate-it film and for that reason, I love it. 

9. The Triplets of Belleville (Sylvain Chomet)
This film barely has any dialogue and the characters are not conventionally cute. In fact, they are at times grotesque and some of the designs are kind of surrealistic in nature but the film still manages to win you over and endear you to this world. It's about a grandmother who is raising her lonely grandson and nurtures and trains him in bicycle racing. Somehow the titular jazz group is involved. I will say that the grandmother is probably one of the best grandmother characters in the history of cinema. 

8. Whale Rider (Niki Caro)
I actually placed this as a runner-up in my 2002 list but I decided to move it in 2003 (it was released in the U.S. in 2003) so I can actually place it in my top 10. Anyway, this is a wonderful family film about a young Maori girl who clashes with her loving but stern and traditionalist grandfather when she wishes to be trained to be a tribal leader. It's a feminist tale for sure but one made with heart and love and no preachiness. Keisha Castle Hughes in the title gives a great performance and was deservedly nominated for the Best Actress Oscar. 

7. Finding Nemo (Andrew Stanton)
PIXAR wields its magic again with this wonderful animated tale about a clown fish named Marlin who overprotects his only surviving son Nemo. They get separated and he must travel across the oceans to find him with the help of Dory a fish who has trouble with short-term memory. It's not my favorite PIXAR film but it's still better than 99% of all movies released that year thanks to great animation and the delightful voice work by Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneres. 

6. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Quentin Tarantino)
This is writer-director Quentin Tarantino loving (and very bloody) tribute to all the great kung-fu and samurai  movies he as a film geek grew up watching. The plot is simple: A deadly lady assassin survives a massacre at her own wedding and awakes from her coma vowing revenge on everyone responsible culminating up to the Bill of the title. It features an ultra-hip soundtrack, very funny dark humor and of course savage violence. People have described as cinematic masturbation. Well, it is. But it's still fun. 

5. Zatoichi (Takeshi Kitano)
As great as Kill Bill Vol. 1 is, it's not my favorite 2003 film featuring a sword-wielding character. It's actually this one. There have been quite a lot of films about Zatoichi, a blind but extremely deadly and efficient samurai assassin. I've seen two of them. I think this one is the better one. It's an exciting piece of film, very well directed by its star. It is worth seeking out especially if you love samurai movies.

4. Memories of Murder (Bong Joon-ho)
This terrific Korean thriller is based on a true story about a serial killer targeting young girls and young women in the South Korean countryside. Two detectives are assigned to solve it and bring the killer to justice. It may sound like a generic procedural film but it is anything but. You are emotionally and heavily involved with these two men that the problem of the identity of the killer becomes just an afterthought. You're just absorbed by the drama of it all especially in the context of Korean society. 

3. Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola)
A washed-up actor doing commercials for money and a younger woman left behind by her busy celebrity photographer husband meet and form a special friendship while in Tokyo, Japan. This film has one of Bill Murray's greatest performances, established Scarlett Johansson as one of a major young actress and turned Sofia Coppola into one of world cinema's major auteurs and netting a well-deserved Original Screenplay Oscar and a nomination for Best Director. 

2. The Son (Le Fils) (Jean Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne)
This is from the Dardenne Brothers, a filmmaking duo from Belgium known for their sparse, minimalist but powerful dramas. This is a great one from them. The key to this film is that the less you know, the better the experience is and since I'm going to be featuring this film later this week, I will not say anything further about it.

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson)
In my own way, I am honoring the entire trilogy by making the third and final (at least until The Hobbit) chapter of The Lord of the Rings trilogy my number one of the year. I recently rewatched the extended editions of all three films and also watched the in-the-making documentaries and they're still extraordinary, passionate and wonderful pieces of work. Great job from Peter Jackson and company. 

Runners-Up: The Return (Andrey Zvyagintsev); City of God (Fernando Meirelles); Swimming Pool (Francois Ozon); School of Rock (Richard Linklater); Love Actually (Richard Curtis)

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (4/29/12 - 5/5/12)

The Devil's Playground (Fred Schepisi) *** - A group of boys in a seminary school as well as their teachers and superior struggle with sexual awakening and worldly desires. I thought it was going to be darker than it ended up being. Though it has serious undertones and themes, there are moments of humor and light-heartedness in it as well. It avoids being too sensationalistic and handles its very sensitive themes very tastefully and intelligently without hitting you over the head with it so much. Great performances too.

The Letter Never Sent (Mikhail Kalatozov) ***1/2 - Four geologists trying to find diamonds in the Siberian tundra get themselves into a life-or-death situation in a forest fire. Like in the other films of his that I've seen, director Mikhail Kalatozov once again demonstrates that he is a real cinematic master. This survival film features some stunning on-location work, jaw-droppingly gorgeous cinematography and inventive use of editing and dissolves. Beyond that, the compelling survival story still shines through.

The Music Room (Satyajit Ray) **** - An aristocratic landlord hanging on to his old way of life re-opens his Music Room for one last moment of glory. This is my first non-Apu Satyajit Ray film and it's a great one. It really is a sad, melancholy film but also oddly life-affirming in its own strange way. It's also filled with wonderful, exciting and beautiful visuals of a lifestyle people outside of India and outside of that particular society seldom see.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Summer Blockbuster Pet Peeve

This weekend, The Avengers officially opens in the United States and North America, marking the start of the summer blockbuster season of 2012. Like any summer blockbuster season, megabudget tent-pole franchise movies will rule the multiplexes. Some of them will be good, a few may be great even but more than a few will be painful to sit through. It's off to a good start since I enjoyed The Avengers immensely (see review below) so I will not earn the ire of the fan boys. One of the things I do not enjoy about summer blockbuster season are fan boys who think you're being a snob if you pan the movies they love. They toss phrases like "it's not supposed to be Citizen Kane" or "you don't like it because it's not an art film or an Oscar film" or "you're supposed to turn your brain off" and crap like that. Now, I'm always up for healthy spirited debates on the merits of a film but if you start using these phrases, I have to say, you're an idiot. Contrary to popular belief, critics DO enjoy popcorn movies. They give the most popular ones great reviews all the time. Critically maligned hit franchises like Transformers and Twilight are actually the exceptions rather than the rules. It's more often that a very popular popcorn film is often also fairly well-reviewed. Film franchises that make lot of money but are critically mixed or panned often also fall short of box-office expectations like Green Lantern. Enjoy the summer blockbusters, by all means but don't let me catch you being a fan boy! ;) 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Great Scenes # 30: Inception (2010)

Directed by Christopher Nolan

God, I love this scene. It's not a perfect but this scene is such a pitch-perfect exhilarating action sequence where Arthur (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a cohort of Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) fights off  "dream security men" in a hallway with fluctuating gravity. The thing I love most about it is that it's filmed without CGI with Joseph Gordon-Levitt doing most, if not all, his own stunts. It was made with an old-school camera trick where a large room is built to rotate and shot in such a way that it seems gravity is fluctuating. It's kind of ingenious, really.