Friday, August 31, 2012

The Great Scenes # 38: Blue Velvet (1986)

Directed by David Lynch

...and I'm back from my Singapore trip! It was fun. I won't bore you with the details but one detail I will share is that I did pick up a Blu-ray while I was there. It was a title unavailable on Blu-ray over here. It's one of David Lynch's sickest, darkest masterpieces,  Blue Velvet. In this scene, we are first introduced to the main antagonist of the film, Frank Booth, played by the late great Dennis Hopper and he instantly becomes one of cinema's most unforgettable, darkest and sickest on-screen villains of all time. CAUTION: This scene is NOT work-safe or for kids. Viewer discretion is advised.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (8/19/12 - 8/25/12)

NOTE: This will probably be my last blogpost in at least five or six days. I'm going on vacation out of the country and I probably won't have time to write some entries until then. 

L'Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni) **** - It's one of the major classics in world cinema. I've seen this quite sometime ago and I revisited it this week. A young woman mysteriously disappears from a yacht trip and her best friend and her boyfriend slowly but surely fall in love as they search for her. The film is definitely not for everybody. It's leisurely paced and the resolution may anger some but the beauty and artistry of the film is a must-see for any serious film lover.

The Red Shoes (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger) **** - Yet another classic of world cinema revisited this week. There are some movies that are so perfect that for an aspiring filmmaker and screenwriter like yours truly, it can become so frustrating since you go, "THAT RIGHT THERE. PERFECTION! HOW CAN I COMPETE WITH THAT? WHAT'S THE POINT?" This compelling, beautiful tale of a ballerina torn between her art and her man is a stunningly perfect film to behold.

The Expendables 2 (Simon West) ** - I didn't see the first one. But I saw this one out of a combination of boredom and the fact that it got somewhat decent reviews. I didn't expect this to be any other than big, dumb, over-the-top violent action and that's what it was but still, I was kind of meh about all the proceedings. Although this one has some cheeky moments, the action wasn't enough to wow me even though they obviously tried hard. It's entertaining enough but disposable and not quite the movie it wanted to be.

Hope Springs (David Frankel) *** - On paper, this sounds like a terrible idea: A middle-aged couple go into an intensive couples' therapy to remedy their stagnant, passionless marriage. But, surprise, surprise, thanks to the acting talents and good chemistry between Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones, the potentially dull, trite, been-there-done-that premise flies and becomes a very nice delightful dramedy. It's really a refreshing remedy to all the high-octane adolescent franchise action pictures of the summer.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Listology # 20: Top 10 Films of 2007

No, I did not forget about this. Just been busy plus the laptop that I had my list is in the shop. I had to recreate this list from memory.

10. Into the Wild (Sean Penn)
A truly unique biographical film about the life of Christopher McCandless, a youth who decides to retreat from civilization and live in the wilderness in solitude. Based on the book by Jon Krakauer, it features Emile Hirsch who gives a truly remarkable performance and sealed his place as one of the best actors of his generation. Sean Penn should really direct more movies because he has a unique eye as a director.

9. We Own The Night (James Gray)
This is quite an overlooked gem. Many people have dismissed or ignored this crime drama about a police family with a criminal son (played by Joaquin Phoenix). But it's thrilling and moving, really rather old-fashioned film which, I could safely describe as a feature length version of "The Prodigal Son". James Gray is one of those unsung American directors. Bonus points: It features one of the most thrilling car chase scenes ever filmed.

8. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik)
I never thought of Casey Affleck highly as an actor until this year with his performances in Gone Baby Gone and this film, where he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, which is the wrong category. He is a LEAD character in this film about well, a legendary criminal of the Old West Jesse James (Brad Pitt) and his ill-advised friendship to Robert Ford. The film's slow pace may bore some but will mesmerize and enthrall others. It features some of the finest, finest work by the great cinematography Roger Deakins. Some shots in this film just plain gave me goosebumps.

7. Zodiac (David Fincher)
I love true crime dramas and unsolved mysteries, mostly as a guilty pleasure. However, this film raises those two elements to cinematic art thanks to director David Fincher's auteurist talents. The film draws you in and wraps you in the mystery yet--SPOILER ALERT--even if it didn't solve it, you don't leave dissatisfied. This is a worthy American counterpart to Bong Joon-ho's Memories of Murder.

6. Ratatouille (Brad Bird)
PIXAR's winning streak continues on with Ratatouille. This time, it's about a rat (voiced wonderfully by Patton Oswalt) who wants to become a chef. Like all the other PIXAR films before it, it mixes great animation with laughs, thrills and even a lot of heart. It's the kind of film you wanna watch again and again and again.

5. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mingiu)
Unlike Ratatouille, this is one film you wouldn't wanna watch again and again and again. But it's still a great film nonetheless. It's from Romania. It's set in the 1980's Romania and it's about young woman who procures an illegal abortion for her none-too-bright friend. I'm not going to lie when I say if a pro-life person sees this movie, he or she will think it's pro-life and a pro-choice person will think it's pro-choice. I will say it's both and neither. That's one of the things that makes this film very compelling and a real must-see.

4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Tim Burton)
I love musical theater. I'm a huge fan of Stephen Sondheim and Sweeney Todd is probably my favorite all-time musical so I was super-excited to find out Tim Burton, one of my favorite directors is adapting this on-screen and personally, it didn't disappoint. Sure, purists may scoff at the fact that the songs were cut and that Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter were not singing them in the traditional way. The power of the stage play still remains and it's one of the best films of the year.

3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Julian Schnabel)
This film tells the true story of Jean Dominique Bauby, a French magazine editor who suffered a massive stroke which rendered him paralyzed throughout most of his body except his left eye in a condition known as locked-in syndrome. But despite that, he managed to compose and write an entire book which this movie is based on. At the hands of a less competent director, this probably would have been sappy trifle of a film but director Julian Schnabel created something that rises above that level while still retaining its life affirming message.

2. No Country for Old Men (Joel Coen/Ethan Coen)
This is this year's Oscar for Best Picture and I sort of kind of agree. It certainly is one of my favorite Coen brothers films (second only to Fargo). An adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel, this tells the story of a man who unwisely keeps a bag full of money belonging to a mysteriously methodical killer. The film contains almost no music and features a scary Oscar-winning performance by Javier Bardem, as Anton Chigurh, one of the most memorable screen villains of all time, IMO.

1. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson)
In films like Magnolia and Boogie Nights, writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson has signs of being a great filmmaker but those films for me have flaws which prevent me from saying that their GREAT films. This film, on the other hand, is where I think Paul Thomas Anderson finally comes of age as a great filmmaker and one of the most exciting American filmmakers of today. Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a larger-than-life performance as Daniel Plainview, a rutless oil man. This is the best film of 2007, a stunning, remarkable achievement. 

Runners-Up: Gone Baby Gone (Ben Affleck), Away from Her (Sarah Polley), Juno (Jason Reitman), Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg), Bug (William Friedkin).

Monday, August 20, 2012

RIP Tony Scott

Director Tony Scott, brother of Ridley, died in an apparent suicide by jumping off a bridge. He was reportedly diagnosed with inoperable, terminal brain cancer. Now, though I may sympathize with his family, friends and colleagues and death of anyone is always sad and tragic, I have to say I'm not the biggest fan of his filmography overall, though I do know of cinephiles, critics and film academics who defend and revere his work as a cinematic stylist and genre filmmaker. I do, however, love two of his films, namely The Hunger and the Quentin Tarantino scripted True Romance (featured here). Hey, if you got two films I consider great, you're fine by me. RIP Tony.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (8/12/12 - 8/18/12)

La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini) **** - I decided to revisit this film since it's one of my favorite films of all time. It's funny, sexy, sharp and sad all at once. Beautiful and haunting.

The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans) ***1/2 - The plot relatively simple: An elite team of police raids an apartment building ruled by a notorious crime lord with most of its tenants hardened criminals and druggies. Bloody gun play and brutal fights ensue. I've seen A LOT of violence in my years of watching films but in this film, there are several moments of graphic brutality that made me flinch. Despite that, I'm still a dude who really got a real kick out of seeing the kick-ass (literally) fight scenes and the action. It's not as good as John Woo at his best but it's still an extremely well-made action picture.

Viridiana (Luis Bunuel) **** - This is another revisit. It's yet another brilliant film and one of my all-time favorites. The Vatican branded this "blasphemous". In a way, yes, it is. But it's reverentially blasphemous if that makes any sense.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Cinema Super Friends Top 30

The Cinema Super Friends is a Facebook group that I belong to. I initiated a survey sort of like the Sight & Sound survey. I thought the results were interesting and I decided to post it here.

1. Citizen Kane (1941, Welles) 
2. 8½ (1963, Fellini)
3. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969, Kubrick)
4. Taxi Driver (1976, Scorsese)
5. Casablanca (1942, Curtiz)
6. Seven Samurai (1954, Kurosawa)
7. Apocalypse Now (1979, Coppola)
8. Vertigo (1958, Hitchcock)
9. The Lord of the Rings (2001-03, Jackson)
10. A Clockwork Orange (1971, Kubrick)
11. Psycho (1960, Hitchcock)
12. Play Time (1967, Tati)
13. City Lights (1931, Chaplin)
14. The 400 Blows (1958, Truffaut)
15. The Rules of the Game (1938, Renoir)
16. Jaws (1975, Spielberg)
17. Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964, Kubrick)
18. Ikiru (1952, Kurosawa)
19. Breathless (1960, Godard)
20. M (1931, Lang)
21. Annie Hall (1977, Allen)
22. Magnolia (1999, Anderson)
23. Brazil (1985, Gilliam)
24. The Third Man (1946, Reed)
25. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1962, Leone)
26. (tie) The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Dreyer)
27. Singin' in the Rain (1952, Donen/Kelly)
28. Tokyo Story (1951, Ozu)
29. The Godfather Part II (1974, Coppola)
30. Pulp Fiction (1994, Tarantino)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (8/5/12 - 8/11/12)

I apologize for not posting in so long. My laptop is not working and my files are all there. Anyhoo, here's the round-up.

L'Atalante (Jean Vigo) **** - This is director Jean Vigo's first (and unfortunately, last) feature-length film but it's such a groundbreaking classic that despite his sparse filmography, Jean Vigo is considered a major film figure. This one tells the story of a newlywed couple who live in a shipping boat. It's actually an extraordinarily realized love story with unexpected, sneaky eroticism. This is actually my second time watching this picture and I like it even more now.

Rope (Alfred Hitchcock) **** - This is another film that I revisited this week. This one is a classic by Alfred Hitchcock about a gay couple who kills their fellow classmate and hides the body in their house as they hold a luncheon with their teacher, the victim's girlfriend and the victim's father. The fact that the two killers are gay is cleverly only hinted at (but modern audiences will catch on to it). The film is composed entirely of very long takes. The technology of the time only allows for 10 minutes of film at a time so Hitchcock had to hide a few edit points here and there.  It's not my favorite Hitchcock but still a great, great film.

The Bourne Legacy (Tony Gilroy) **1/2- I'm not the biggest fan of the Bourne franchise so I really don't regard this as any kind of sacrilege. This one doesn't have the title character or the actor who plays him, Matt Damon but that's not the film's biggest problem at all. Its biggest problem is that it's a fairly generic action picture that's both way overlong and ends way too abruptly. It is however made quite watchable by the great performances of Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz. Plus the climactic chase sequence in Manila is pretty cool to watch (especially as a Filipino, of course).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Great Scenes # 37: Battleship Potemkin (1925)

Directed by Sergei Eisenstein

This is one of the most famous scenes ever captured on cinema. This is a stunning, groundbreaking sequence where innocent people are massacred in the famous Odessa Steps sequence. It is considered an achievement in editing and helped establish a language in editing action sequences. It has been much paid homage to and parodied (most famously in Brian DePalma's The Untouchables). 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Weekly Round-Up (7/29/12 - 8/4/12)

Valley of the Bees (Frantisek Vlacil) **** - I've never heard of this film before it was recommended to me and I must say one of the greatest joys in life is discovering little-known cinematic gems and this is one of them. When a high-born man almost kills his son for disrupting his wedding to a much, much younger girl, he sends him to a religious order of knights. The boy grows up and escapes years later. What follows is a very gripping morality tale of the eternal battle of the spirit and the flesh with lots of wonderful layers and textures on it. It's sort of like Andrei Rublev with a dose of Seventh Seal in it but not exactly.
Brave (Mark Andrews/Brenda Chapman) ***1/2 - First, the good news: This is a vast improvement to Cars 2. The bad news: It's still nowhere near as great as the other PIXAR films at its finest. PIXAR's first fantasy/fairy tale and PIXAR's first film with a female central protagonist is very much a solid effort that's only CLOSE to being outstanding. Its biggest fault really is being unfairly (somewhat) compared to its predecessors. I'm thinking had this been a Dreamworks film, the film would have had better reviews. But as it is, it's a fine, fine piece of work with great animation and excellent voice over performances.

Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock) **** - This is my third time watching this film. I slipped it on the DVD player due to its recent shocking dethroning of Citizen Kane as the #1 movie in the recent Sight & Sound poll. My second evaluation still stands: It's a GREAT movie. Probably in my Top 100/250 films of all time but it's nowhere near the Top 10. And it's not my favorite Hitchcock (It's still running fourth behind Notorious, Psycho and Rear Window). But still, it's a GREAT, GREAT motion picture which I highly recommend everyone must see. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sight & Sound Top Films 2012

Sight & Sound magazine recently released its once-a-decade list of ten best films voted on by both film critics and filmmakers. This particular time, however, there is a big surprise in the list. Alfred Hitchcock's romantic-thriller Vertigo has displaced Citizen Kane as the number one best film. The latter film has held on to that top spot for over 40 years. The rest of the list are pretty standard stuff, strong films which every film critic, cinephile and filmmaker should have seen by now. Personally, I think Vertigo is an excellent film but it's nowhere near my Top 10. It's not even my favorite Hitchcock film. Notorious, Rear Window and Psycho are ahead of it. But still, it's nice to see a bit of variety in these lists. Here's the Top 10:

The Critics’ Top 10 Greatest Films of All Time
Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958)
Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941)
Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953)
La R├Ęgle du jeu (Jean Renoir, 1939)
Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1927)
8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963)