Sunday, April 28, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (4/21/13 - 4/27/13)

Time of the Wolf (Michael Haneke) ***1/2 - An unspecified disaster wrecks havoc in civilization in Europe, particularly a family trying to survive in the French countryside. This film is spectacularly bleak even in the standards of Michael Haneke. The austere proceedings and deliberate pacing plus shocking spurts of violence and disturbing images will make it a real trial for most people to sit through. It's not my favorite Haneke but it's still an extremely well-made, well-shot post-apocalyptic drama.

Mr. Hulot's Holiday (Jacques Tati) **** - I'm a huge, huge fan of director Jacques Tati and his Monsieur Hulot character. This early film featuring him is a wonderful little gem that's nearly entirely plotless. It's basically a series of vignettes and scenes involving Hulot and his fellow vacationers in the French seaside. There are lots of really funny gags and physical comedy. But all in all, I feel like this is the warm up to the masterpieces ahead, namely Mon Oncle and Play Time.

Touchez Pas au grisbi (Jacques Becker) ***1/2 - It's pretty much a cliche that the "one last job" of a thief, a hitman, a criminal, what-not will almost always go wrong. Well, in this one, it's what comes AFTER the "one last job". A professional thief hoping to retire pulls a successful "one last job" but complications post-heist ensue. The film is a slow-burn, especially for a crime thriller but it pays off very much in the end. It's not quite as great as The Hole (the only other Jacques Becker film I've seen) and other French crime thrillers which I've seen of its era but it's still a very solid outing.

Iron Man 3 (Shane Black) ***1/2 - First off, this is way better than Iron Man 2. Shane Black manages to infuse some wicked humor and subvert, even just a little bit, genre tropes giving the franchise a breath of fresh air. Robert Downey Jr. is as usual terrific but Gwyneth Paltrow steps up her game in this one, managing not to be just a damsel in distress. Ben Kingsley, though, gives a hilarious performance....and INTENTIONAL too. To reveal it here would be spoiling something but if you're one of the people who had problems with his accent/appearance in the trailers, it will make sense when you see the film. All in all, a very, very entertaining, fun film.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Letterboxd is a really cool movie-themed social media site. I've actually had a Letterboxd profile/account for a while now but it's only recently that I took full advantage of it. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves film and talking about film. Feel free to follow me:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (4/14/13 - 4/20/13)

Execution in Autumn (Lee Hsing) *** - I always feel a bit guilty about not watching enough Chinese films despite the fact that I've seen a bunch of them. Personally, I think I prefer Japanese films just a smidgen a bit. This film is about a spoiled man who murders three people and is sentenced to death and the entire year he has to wait for his execution because, as the title suggests, the Chinese believe that executions should be held in autumn. It gets a tad soapy and preachy in the end, at least for my taste but it's still a compelling little well-acted drama.

Coffy (Jack Hill) ***1/2 - My exposure to blaxploitation continues with Pam Grier. And, man, I didn't expect to like this movie as much as I did. The film is clearly a product of the '70s, so much so that it almost feels like a period piece. It's shamelessly trashy and campy yet, oh, so much fun. The film is clearly not high art. The outrageous situations, outfits, some corny dialogue and plot would not be nearly as fun and enjoyable if it weren't for the legitimately great performance by Pam Grier who wonderfully toes the line between grounding the film and basking in all its trashy glory.

Festen (The Celebration) (Thomas Vinterberg) **** - I've been told that if I have to see one film from Dogme 95 movement, this is it because it's the best. I can't compare but it is a pretty damn great film. Part of what makes it so good is that I actually knew very little of the actual plot going in. All you need to know is that it's about a party/family reunion celebrating the 60th birthday of the patriarch of a well-off family and then one of the adult children drops a bomb shell. Anthony Dod Mantle's digital cinematography makes it look a bit rough-around-the-edges which is part of its appeal. The cast, however, is outstanding.

Festen (The Celebration) (Thomas Vinterberg) **** - I've been told that if I have to see one film from Dogme 95 movement, this is it because it's the best. I can't compare but it is a pretty damn great film. Part of what makes it so good is that I actually knew very little of the actual plot going in. All you need to know is that it's about a party/family reunion celebrating the 60th birthday of the patriarch of a well-off family and then one of the adult children drops a bomb shell. Anthony Dod Mantle's digital cinematography makes it look a bit rough-around-the-edges which is part of its appeal. The cast, however, is outstanding.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Great Scenes # 49: No Country for Old Men (2007)

Directed by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
No Country for Old Men won the Coen Brothers multiple Oscars and Javier Bardem won Best Supporting Actor. This scene is one of the reasons why. In this tense scene, murderous psychopath Anton Chigurh flips a coin to decide the fate of an innocent elderly man who had no idea how close he was to getting killed. Bardem gives a great performance, of course, but something has to be said for Gene Jones, who plays the old man. In just a couple of minutes, he made us care about him and not want him to die. It just makes the scene even MORE tense. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (4/7/13 - 4/13/13)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Tomas Alfredson) ***1/2 - This is a slow-burn spy thriller set during the cold war. It gets a bit slow and hard-to-follow in the beginning but gradually picks up and becomes rather gripping. Gary Oldman gives a remarkably controlled and subtle performance as a veteran agent trying to ferret out a mole in their agency. He is supported by an amazing ensemble of actors especially Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch. It's also very skillfully directed by Tomas Alfredson and the design, cinematography and score are all impeccable. Definitely worth your time.

Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog) **** - This is a film that has many layers of insanity and I absolutely love it, not quite as much as Aguirre, Wrath of God but I still do. Basically, it's all about a man who treks deep into the jungles of the Amazon river and enlists natives to help him drag a steamboat over a hill to the other side of the river in order for him to earn enough money so he can build an opera house in the Amazon village where he lives. It's as insane as it sounds and I love it. Even more insane is the fact that they actually did it on film. The passion that the title character has for this project is very much reflective of the passion of director Werner Herzog and his star, Klaus Kinski.

The Kid with a Bike (Jean Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne) **** - The Dardenne Brothers are, to me anyway, the modern day heirs of both Robert Bresson and Vittorio De Sica in their sparse dramas that are both minimalist and humanist in their approach. They further prove that with this affecting drama about a young boy whose father abandons him and a kind woman comes to his rescue. It's moving without being the least bit sappy or sentimental. Thomas Doret, who plays the troubled young boy, gives a magnificent, moving performance that's simply heartbreaking. Also great is Cecile DeFrance as the kind woman who inexplicably takes him into her home. A terrific film.

Oblivion (Joseph Kosinski) *** - The first act of this film felt a bit derivative: Earth is deserted after a war with alien invaders left everything devastated and two people are tasked with "cleaning things up" while the rest of the population are up in space. However, the third act twist elevates this to very good instead of just being okay. Joseph Kosinski's last film, TRON: Legacy was visually dazzling with a great score but left me cold otherwise. This one, however, is a vast improvement. It may not be a sci-fi masterpiece but it's engaging story with some darn good special effects. Kosinski knows how to direct action scenes, thank goodness there's a decent enough story built around it.

Burden of Dreams (Les Blank) **** - Director Les Blank recently passed away while at the same time, I recently saw Fitzcarraldo for the first time. So it's the best time for me to see this documentary about the making of the film. I suspected based on what I've seen that the making of Fitzcarraldo would be just as fascinating and compelling, if not more so, as the film itself. I was absolutely right. It's a great documentary that's almost a remake of sorts of the film it's documenting with Werner Herzog replacing the Fitzcarraldo character. Watching this, I have to say it's a miracle the film got completed and I have to admire Herzog the director for having the tenacity to complete it. Boy, I could listen to Werner Herzog talk all day. No joke.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Great Scenes # 48: Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)

Directed by Werner Herzog

Aguirre, Wrath of God is stunning piece of cinema. I highly suggest that you go see it first before watching the climactic ending scenes of this film. It tells the story of a Spanish conquistador trying to find the legendary lost city of El Dorado. This insane story is only matched by the behind-the-scenes drama where, it's been said, at one point Werner Herzog had to point a gun at Klaus Kinsky in order to make him stay on the set. All that insanity and tension off-screen probably contributed to the brilliance of the film on-screen. A truly extraordinary film.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (3/31/13 - 4/6/13)

A Man Escaped (Robert Bresson) **** - I've seen quite a number of prison escape films: From The Great Escape to Le Trou to The Shawshank Redemption. This is probably the best prison escape movie. It's my favorite so far at least. The plot is simple enough: A French man is in imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II and wants to escape. Like with most films by Robert Bresson, the film is fairly minimalist and the emotions are muted but there are still moments of suspense. Bresson was masterful with his direction here, particularly his use of sound. Like with many Bresson films, there's an added spiritual layer to this film which makes the ending surprisingly moving in an odd way. A real masterpiece.

Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! (Russ Meyer) ***1/2 - Oh, my God. This movie is unbelievable. A trio of big-breasted (of course!) female drag racers murder a man, kidnaps his young girlfriend and hide out in ranch with a crippled misogynist keen on some raping. The film is intentionally super campy and is filled with so many clever lines and innuendoes that I think you have to watch it more than once to catch them all. This can also be read as some sort satire on feminism and gender politics Is it pro-feminist or anti-feminist? Who knows? It's still trashy B-movie stuff fun made the old-fashioned way.

GI Joe: Retaliation (Jon M. Chu) *1/2 - I didn't bother to see the first one. I wasn't going to see this one either after the delay and the re-shoots. I wasn't looking forward to it. I just saw it because I'm bored and it's the only thing playing the cheaper theater that wasn't a Filipino rom-com so why the hell not? Okay, I'm not a hoity-toity artsy fartsy film snob who can only be excited by a black & white subtitled film from an obscure country (I love watching those though!). I love a good escapist action picture. Cinematic junk food that's fun and filled with eye candy and 'splosions. I only require one thing from them: That the script, direction and acting is good enough that I give a shit about what's happening. That didn't happen here. There are some really neat action scenes like the really cool fight scene with the ninjas flying around wires on a cliffside with swords but not enough to really engage me. Every cool gadget, every cool explosion, every incredible fight/moves/stunts that would've made me go WOW! COOL! had the cinematic foundations surrounding it was better made. It's inoffensive but so are screensavers.

Friday, April 5, 2013

R.I.P. Roger Ebert

(1942 -2013)

I would not be doing this blog if it were not for this man. Roger Ebert, more than any other critic, has turned film criticism into something accessible to mainstream audiences without dumbing it down. I may not have always agreed with him but I always know where he comes from. Following him on Twitter, I felt like I got a glimpse of the man: Passionate, humble, generous. And he loved movies. I have to say his commentary on Citizen Kane made me not only love that film more, but also deepened my love for the medium of film. He has been one of the major figures that helped shape my film tastes and my film writing. I will miss him terribly. R.I.P.