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.