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.