Sunday, March 31, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (3/24/13 - 3/30/13)

The Croods (Kirk DeMicco/Chris Sanders) *** - This is a fun, entertaining 3D animated feature film about a family of cavemen. The story is somewhat just okay but what makes this film work are the eye-popping visuals and the inventive, fun creatures that the animators come up with. I saw it in 3D and it's pretty damn good looking in 3D as well. It's good fun. But it's a bit generic, really. Nicolas Cage is surprisingly really good as a caveman.

Mother (Bong Joon-ho) **** - Yikes! Bong Joon-ho is DEFINITELY one of my favorite directors. 3-for-3 so far based on the ones I've seen. This film about an over-protective mother of a mentally-challenged young man trying his innocence when a teenage girl is murdered and he's the principal suspect. Hye-ja Kim plays the title character and she's SUPERB. The film often changes tone from comedy to serious drama to procedural mystery-thriller without feeling the least bit jarring. The less you know about the film, the better. Great, great film!

Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold) *** - A teenage girl who's an aspiring hip-hop dancer from a troubled home becomes enamored of her mother's newest boyfriend. Though I wasn't blown away by the film as a whole, I was impressed that the two of the main characters played by Katie Jarvis (in a startling debut) and Michael Fassbender. In hands of lesser actors and lesser filmmakers, these two characters would absolutely infuriate me to no end but they manage to maintain some level interest, understanding and sympathy althroughout. It's a nice quiet solid film. I'll be watching out for more from Andrea Arnold.

A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger) **** - Quite possibly one of, if not, the best film about love, death and the afterlife ever made. David Niven is a World War II RAF pilot who falls in love with an American service woman moments before he's supposed to die finds himself fighting for his life. It's extremely intelligent, sweet, funny and moving, no matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs are. It also helps that the Archers' vision of Heaven and the Afterlife is among the best I've ever seen helped by Jack Cardiff's fantastic cinematography which alternates black & white and technicolor (The way they switch around is also similarly breathtaking).

The Phantom Carriage (Victor Sjostrom) ***1/2 - The one thing that surprised me most about this film is that it's not really much of a horror film like I previously thought. It has creepy imagery and supernatural elements, sure, but it's more of a drama than anything else. I can see how Ingmar Bergman was heavily influenced by it. It's a stunningly made meditation on mortality and life and death disguised as a horror film. The ghost effects, though, looks great and is quite spooky.

Sweet Sweetback's Baaaadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles) ***1/2 - I hope I spelled that right. LOL. I like to pride myself as having seen a wide range of films however I'm embarrassed to admit that one subgenre of film that is my complete spot was blaxploitation. Well, not anymore. Despite being very obviously a product of its time, this film is still very much fun to watch. It's very well crafted (despite the rough around the edges quality) and its daring content still packs a punch. Add to that the really cool soundtrack. The third act feels a bit padded out but apart from that, it's one really cool movie.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Listology # 25: Top 10 Films of 2010

Time to continue this.
10. Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos)
This film is shocking, outrageous, disturbing and, dare I say it, even darkly funny. If you think your parents were over-protective, they're nothing compared to these. A couple, for unknown reasons, keep their three young adult children completely isolated from the outside world, to the point where they pretty much built an entire almost alternate reality for them. There are things in here that will make you squeamish and you'll want to talk about it for days.

9. The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
At first I thought it was simply a solid thriller but after stewing on it for a long while, I've come to realize how pretty damn great it is. Ewan McGregor plays the unnamed title character who was hired to "ghost write" the biography of a former British Prime Minister but things are not always what they seem. Do watch out for Olivia Williams as the Prime Minister's wife.
8. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World  (Edgar Wright)

This film surprisingly BOMBED in theaters. Chalk it up to the relatively obscure source material or Michael Cera fatigue but few films are this much fun, funny and very enjoyable. A ne'er-do-well garage band member must battle the seven evil exes of the girl of his dreams. It's got imaginative visual flair, chockful of fun pop culture references and winks and laughs galore.

7. Another Year (Mike Leigh)
I didn't expect how much I would fall in love with this film. Basically, it's all about one year in the life of one older couple and all their friends and family. The couple, played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, are for the most part perfectly happy and content but their friends and family are a whole other matter especially for their one friend Mary, played by the incredible Lesley Manville who was robbed of an Oscar nomination that role.
6. Mother (Bong Joon-ho)
This is the newest entry in my Top 10 list. My official review of it will be posted in the Weekly Round-Up on Sunday but suffice to say, spoiler alert, I loved it. South Korea has been a hot bed of lots of mighty interesting films and filmmakers and Bong Joon-ho is probably my favorite among them. This comedy/drama/thriller/whodunit pretty much seals the deal. Great film.

5. The Social Network (David Fincher)
The idea seem preposterous. A film about Facebook? Get out of here. But trust David Fincher to create a very interesting, stunningly crafted film on the subject that probes deeper than simply just a movie about social networking. Jesse Eisenberg is simply great as Mark Zuckerberg, the young man who started it all.
4. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy)

If you think a documentary about art can't be fun, think again. This really funny and yet also thought-provoking, umm, I guess you can call it a documentary, is just such a joy from start to finish. This film is about street artist Banksy and his relationship with a unique character named Mr. Brainwash. It's best not to delve into it too much and just see it unfold. Some people might even question its authenticity as a documentary but whatever it is, it's great cinema.
3. Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich)
PIXAR has been cranking great films since they started making, at least up until this point. Toy Story 3 is a funny, moving and simply wonderful third part (I hesistate to call it a "conclusion") to the franchise that launched the PIXAR brand into infinity and beyond. This never fails to pull one's heartstrings and tickle one's funny bone.
2. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)

Technically, this is a television miniseries at least that's how it was released in the U.S. But goshdarnit, it is such a great, great piece of work that I simply HAD to include it here. Edgar Ramirez gives a really towering performance as notorious terrorist Carlos The Jackal. It's not simply a biopic but it comes off more of a character study and therefore makes it deeper and more resonant. It's probably one of the best films about terrorism and it's almost as good as Battle of Algiers.
1. Black Swan (Darren Aronofksy)
I've read lots of negative criticisms levelled against this film but none of it wavered my love for it. This film combines very high-brow elements like classical ballet and psychological drama with low-brow elements like horror, camp and exploitation. I've said it before that this film is "pretentious camp" and I mean that as a compliment. Balancing it all is the great performance by Natalie Portman. I actually do not like Natalie Portman as an actress. I haven't really liked her since her debut in The Professional but I was blown away by her in this. She truly deserved her Best Actress Oscar.
Runners-Up: Inception (Christopher Nolan); The Fighter (David O. Russell), The King's Speech (Tom Hooper), Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek); The American (Anton Corbijn).

Monday, March 25, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (3/17/13 - 3/23/13)

Shit. Totally forgot about this.

The Sessions (Ben Lewin) ***1/2 - I was surprised by this film. The only reason I bothered to see this movie is that it's the only film to get a major nomination that I still haven't seen. Having a bit of an OCD about these things, I had to see this movie so I'd be set. I had no interest in seeing this film because I thought the concept, despite the promise of lots of sex and nudity AND the good reviews, the film sounds generic and boring. But again, I was surprised by how sweet, funny and moving it is. This is thanks to the terrific performances by John Hawkes and Helen Hunt (wonky accent notwithstanding).

Another Year (Mike Leigh) ***1/2 - This is another surprise. It's probably one of my favorite Mike Leigh films. Basically it's about the world's happiest, most normal, most well-adjusted older couple and their sad, pathetic, lonely friends. It features a fantastic ensemble of actors. But the one who shines the brightest is Lesley Manville. I was somewhat annoyed by her character when she was first introduced but by the end of the film, I truly wanted to hug her. It's really an incredible feat of acting. One of the best films of 2010.

Aparisyon (Apparition) (Vincent Sandoval) **** - An exquisitely directed and acted Filipino independent film about nuns in a convent during the early '70s, just before Marcos declared martial law. The film is almost shot like a slow-burn horror film in a way and I can see the heavy influence of Black Narcissus which is probably the best nun movie ever made and I must say, *this* film is within striking distance of that which is, for me, VERY high praise. Yet another Filipino filmmaker to watch out for. It goes to show that Philippine cinema is still vibrant in the independent scene.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Great Scenes # 47: Safety Last! (1923)

Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor
This week, the Criterion Collection announced that one of its releases will be Safety Last!, probably the most famous film from the "third genius" Harold Lloyd (the others being Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton). This is probably one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, a deft-defying and funny stunt involving a clock and a skyscraper. No CGI or trick photography involved (though it's revealed that it's far less dangerous than the hype suggests) but still impressively made.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (3/10/13 - 3/16/13)

Carlos (Olivier Assayas) **** - Calling this a "biopic" is almost an insult. I would consider it more a fascinating character study more than anything. I also would personally rank this as one of the best films about terrorists and terrorism alongside Battle of Algiers. Edgar Ramirez gives a mighty impressive performance as Carlos The Jackal (Funny, the over-5-hour miniseries never once called him that). His arc throughout the (fictionalized) film resembles more of a down-and-out celebrity than as this legendary larger-than-life revolutionary/evil terrorist (depending on who you ask). It's a miniseries, technically but you'll most likely find yourself wanting to watch it in one sitting. It's really that compelling. Probably my favorite film of 2010.

Hot Fuzz (Edgar Wright) ***1/2 - This is probably my least favorite Edgar Wright film but that's like saying dark chocolate is my least favorite chocolate and I love chocolate. This film is a real treat. It's a very funny film that both satirizes and pays tribute to big loud action movies of the '80s and '90s particularly the Tony Scott/Michael Bay flicks while still maintaining a strong sense of story and character. The last 45 minutes is particularly amazing.

Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino) ****- The last Best Picture of 2012 finally crossed off. Ah yes. Writer-director Quentin Tarantino doesn't say anything new about slavery and racism in the South. But what he does is an extremely effective highly stylized ode to spaghetti Westerns and exploitation flicks. It is a Tarantino film through and through, complete with the over-the-top violence and hilarious dialogue to go with it. It is NOT my favorite Tarantino flick but I'm an unapologetic fan of his work so this is indeed one of my favorite films of the year. I had a problem, at first, with its weird structure that introduces, what is essentially a fourth act but after thinking about it and letting it digest, I decided it was a real good touch.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Great Films # 11: Weekend (1967)

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
My initial plan was to post the incredible tracking shot sequence of an insane traffic jam as part of my "Great Scenes" series but the ENTIRE film is on Youtube so why not the entire movie? This is what many consider to be one of Godard's last films of *his* golden age. After this film, he went off to produce rather divisive films with a heavy Marxist bent. I recently purchased this on Blu-ray and it's probably one of my all-time favorite films. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Weekly Round Up (3/3/12 - 3/9/12)

Stoker (Park Chan-wook) ***1/2 I'm actually NOT a fan of Oldboy, unlike most people. But I do think Park Chan-wook is an interesting filmmaker and I do want to see more of his work. I'm intrigued by the idea of him making an English-language Hollywood film (though I'm more interested in what Bong Joon-ho or Kim Ki-duk do with an English language project). The result? It's basically a Hitchcockian story with the fucked up elements of a David Lynch film. I like it. It's creepy, disturbing and at times borderline campy made with very heavy stylistic flourishes. It's not perfect but it didn't play safe and I do like films that swing for the fences like these.

Jack the Giant Slayer **1/2 - What is it with re-imaginings of fairy tales lately? Two Snow White movies last year and now it's Jack and the Beanstalk's turn to get adapted as an expanded 3D (though I saw it in 2D) fantasy-adventure. The result is something that I can only say is not bad. It's fine, entertaining, fun but as generic and predictable as they come. It doesn't help that the CGI of the giants isn't really all that impressive. Nicholas Hoult further proves he can be an appealing leading man but I hope he gets better scripts soon.

Night of the Demon (Jacques Tourneur) ***1/2 - I'm currently trying to knock out a script involving summoning demons so a friend of mine recommended I see this movie for inspiration. Consider me inspired! (I think Sam Raimi was inspired by this movie too) Of course, it's directed by Jacques Tourneur whose films Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie are some of my favorite classic horror films. This one is about a demonic cult that summons a fire demon and skeptical scientist who investigates. Again, atmosphere and character take center stage over gore and special effects.

Oz The Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi) *** - Someone I know said this is like Army of Darkness for kids. And it is. Sort of. At least I can see what they're talking about. It's far from perfect but it's actually a very whimsical visually spectacular love letter to the classic 1939 film version. They advertise this as from the producers of Alice in Wonderland but it's a far better film than that. It's also probably the closest thing to Evil Dead-type playfulness from Sam Raimi in his foray to big-budget Hollywood productions including his Spider-Man movies. I'm surprised how much I liked this to be frank. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (2/24/13 - 3/2/13)

5 Broken Cameras (Emad Burnat/Guy Davidi) **** - A harrowing documentary from the point of view (for most of the film, LITERALLY) of a Palestinian family man turned documentarian living in a village in the West Bank. Though it at times feels repetitive, there's no denying the power of the images that somehow were managed to be captured by the "title characters" (so to speak). It is a shocking, disturbing and heartbreaking inside look into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Anna Karenina (Joe Wright) *** - Director Joe Wright's very unique adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy novel is, for me, very much a mixed result. But there's too much in there to admire and I can't help but feel this is a definitely a work of a talented filmmaker. Framing the story as a theatrical performance makes for a very interesting, experimental take on the story but I think it would have worked better if they had committed to it a lot more instead cutting into sequences that's a straight-forward, conventional adaptation. It's almost distracting. But what holds it together are the performances of Keira Knightley and Jude Law and they're finely supported by Alicia Vikander and Domhnall Gleeson. Aaron Taylor-Johnson though is a bit miscast.

Come and See (Elem Klimov) **** - I've seen tons of World War II movies and a whole bunch of the subgenre of World War II films from the point of view of children and adolescents. This one ranks as one of the best. The plot is simple: An eager beaver teenage boy from a small village in Russia volunteers for the army during the war and witnesses first hand the true horrors of war. I've heard this film's reputation for being bleak. It is. Very. But also it has moments of beautiful imagery that almost borders on dark fantasy/horror/surrealism especially on the first half. I thought I've seen everything but this managed to still shock and horrify me despite seeing and knowing all that I know about World War II. It hammers the point too hard just a tad at the end but it's still a stunning piece of cinema.

Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell) *** - I liked this film. It's a good film. But I didn't LOVE it and I don't think it's a particularly GREAT film. First off the first two acts are a tonal mess. The balance between the dead serious themes and the comedy are all over place, only held together by the terrific performances of Bradley Cooper, who gives his career-best performance and Robert De Niro who gives his best performance in a long, long, long, long time. Jacki Weaver is terrific but wasted in an underwritten role (she makes the best of it though). And now let's go to Jennifer Lawrence: I think she gives a great performance, she hits all the right notes but unfortunately, she is AT LEAST five years too young for the role. I wasn't buying she was this widow with a possible sex addiction. Despite the fact that they clearly tried to age her up a bit, it felt way too dress-up for me. It hurts to write this about her because I really do love her as an actress and like most of the male population, I want her to be my girlfriend but I gotta play the critic. Sorry. But that said, the last half hour is where the film actually comes together and I was won over. Not enough to significantly increase my rating of the film though.