Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Great Scenes # 54: Annie Hall (1977)

 Directed by Woody Allen

Woody Allen's latest film Blue Jasmine, which got fairly good reviews, recently opened in a few theaters in the United States so I guess it's appropriate to feature another Woody Allen film. This is one of his masterpieces, a funny, insightful romantic comedy that's pretty much one of the best ever done. This is the opening scene which begins with the Woody Allen character talking to the camera which in itself is pretty extraordinary. And the funny thing is, it doesn't feel dated at all. The humor and what he talks about still feels relevant to this day. And still funny.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (7/21/13 - 7/27/13)

Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn) ** - Oh, God. This was a difficult one. This is a case of having great high-quality ingredients but coming up with a lackluster, AT BEST, dish. This is a film that's strictly style over substance, with spurts of shocking violence and features very unpleasant characters. All those don't necessarily make a bad film but in this, but writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn severely miscalculated nearly everything! The cinematography and art direction are nice to look at but often self-consciously artsy. It doesn't have enough of a sense of humor for it to become something campy (& fun) but instead comes off as at best ridiculous and at worst unpleasant. It doesn't have enough substance for it to justify the unpleasant things going on. It's an exercise in style but with really nowhere to go and all in all pointless. Plus the style that's in there has been done better by other directors and other films. It's too bad. There are REALLY good things there. It's really sore miscalculation on the part of an otherwise very talented filmmaker. It's an interesting failure of a film.

The Wolverine (James Mangold) *** - I had relatively low expectations on this one but I thought what the hell. As it turns out, it's pretty darn good. I thought the entire concept of combining samurais, ninjas and the Yakuzas and just plopping Wolverine in the middle of it was a pretty darn good idea. It felt like director James Mangold wanted to make a Japanese action flick and the only way he could do it was to incorporate a superhero on it. It was a cool conceit but the third act could have a hell of lot better. Wolverine is still one of the more interesting superhero characters and Hugh Jackman plays him very well. Decent enough.

Face to Face (Ingmar Bergman) **1/2 - Liv Ullman gives an excellent performance as a prim and proper psychiatrist whose life and sanity unravels after she is raped. This performance alone makes this film very much worth watching in an otherwise lesser Bergman. If I didn't know he still had Autumn Sonata and Fanny & Alexander after this, I would've said, "Oooh, time to retire." The film is quite derivative of his previous works and occasionally borders of self-parody in parts. But Liv Ullman, oh, man, she makes the film.

I also saw three films from the currently on-going Cinemalaya Film Festival which I will post in a separate entry.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Great Scenes # 53: Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Pacific Rim is out in theaters right now and I highly recommend that you go see it. It's my favorite blockbuster movie of the summer so far. The director of that film is Guillermo del Toro who made what is probably his masterpiece a few years ago with Pan's Labyrinth. It's magical, dark, violent grown-up fantasy film about a little girl going into the realm of magical creatures during the Spanish Civil War to escape her evil stepfather. My favorite scene from it is the one above. In just a few minutes, del Toro manages to craft and stimulate your imagination using only visuals and minimal dialogue of this horrific, terrifying character known as the Pale Man and turned it into one of the most unforgettable movie monsters of recent years. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (7/14/13 - 7/20/13)

Kes (Ken Loach) ***1/2 - I made the mistake of not getting the subtitles for the copy I got. I didn't understand almost half the dialogue. But even then, I was still swept up by this heartbreaking story of a working class, often bullied teenage boy who finds solace and happiness in falconry with his pet kestrel. I've seen a couple of his later works but I found him to be just a smidgen preachy with his works but this one, though it depicts the British working class, has a very lyrical quality to it. It also features a VERY impressive performance by the lead actor, David Bradley (another David Bradley).

The Tin Star (Anthony Mann) **** - My further exploration of the filmography of Anthony Mann continues on with this TRULY remarkable film. I can't believe it isn't more popular. A young sheriff gets lessons in gun play and justice from an ex-sheriff-turned-bounty hunter. Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins are wonderful together. Exciting scenes are coupled with tackling themes of proper justice, racism and sexism and they're interwoven beautifully. It's got everything a great Western should have and MORE. I couldn't recommend more highly.
Bay of Blood (Mario Bava) *** - The horror movie cliche of a group of hedonistic teenagers getting killed one by one in spectularly gory ways did not start with Halloween or even Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It started with THIS film. But it's only one fragment of it. It's about group of people essentially murdering each other for control of a beautiful bay. It's my third Bava film, not my favorite but still a really solid horror film. It's got some good scares and a surprising amount of gore for a relatively old film. I felt it could have a bit more black humor but that's just me.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

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

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (Hiroshi Inagaki) ***1/2 - This is the first in the trilogy of films about the famous titular real-life samurai warrior. I saw all three films in a 36 hour period but it didn't feel right to review it one-by-one so I'm gonna review all three at once. All three films hold their own as individual films but watching it in order will make you appreciate and understand the different little character arcs. The first one is like a "origin story" for you superhero nerds. It starts out a bit sluggish and derivative but eventually becomes more and more compelling and the pay-off is sublime. It will get you to watch the second and third, that's for certain.

Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (Hiroshi Inagaki) ***1/2 - The second in the trilogy is better than the first if what you're looking for is great samurai action. The titular scene, where Musashi battles eighty men is superb. The journey there, however, is a bit of a slodge because it incorporates a few soapy/melodramatic love story/love triangle which I felt doesn't work THAT well with the otherwise strong material. I'm not against it per se. I just felt it hampered it, not compliment it. But it's only a minor quibble since everything else is so good and it sets up well for the third film.

Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (Hiroshi Inagaki) ***1/2 - The third film and the conclusion of the trilogy is very wisely not as action-oriented as the second one. There's a character introduced in the second film that when you see him, the first thing that will pop in your mind is, "When is he gonna fight Musashi?". Well, this film was the answer. And I'm not lying when I say it's probably one of the most beautifully filmed fight scenes ever. Overall, I would say this trilogy is a solid entry into the samurai films canon. It doesn't quite reach the heights of Kurosawa (and a couple of other non-Kurosawa samurai films I've seen, one of them Sword of Doom). But they're terrific pieces of work.

Bernie (Richard Linklater) ***1/2 - Jack Black gives one of his career-best performances in this film based on a true story of a gay mortician who murders a mean 81 year old lady. One of the things I admired about this film is that it manages to be wickedly funny without being the least bit condescending or sensationalistic about its subject matter which lesser filmmakers and writers would most likely do. As I said, Black was fantastic but so were Matthew McConaughey and Shirley MacLaine.

Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro) ***1/2- Oh, my. This is probably my favorite summer blockbuster of the year so far. It's basicaly giant robots fighting giant monsters. It's big, loud and silly like any summer blockbuster. But the main difference is that it manages to inspire a sense of wonder and it surprised me. There were moments when I went "WOW!" and "HOLY SHIT!" I felt like a 12 year old again. This is exactly what this movie feels like: A loving tribute to monster movies that director Guillermo del Toro saw when he was a kid. The big fight scenes are spectacularly staged. You can actually see what's going on and they don't feel at all monotonous like these scenes tend to do. Plus they don't overstay their welcome. I will admit that the human elements of the story could have been a bit better but they were just good enough that I actually gave a damn about the characters so it's a minor quibble rather than a major one. I have to say, this is the summer blockbuster where I had the most fun! It's kind of refreshing to see original material from a visionary director who obviously loves it.

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater) **** - This is probably my favorite film of the year so far. This is the third film in what is, SO FAR (I'm thinking this may continue) a trilogy of films chronicling the relationship between Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) that started in Before Sunrise and continued to Before Sunset, both films I absolutely loved. This time, they're living together, they have twin girls and are middle-aged. Like the first two films, the film is basically entirely conversations but thanks to the great script, acting and direction, holds your attention and engages you throughout. Having seen these two characters "grow up" so to speak before our eyes and all the many ups and downs of their relationship, one can't help but hold onto to their every word and seem like we already know them as people. The film does not shy away from harsh realities and real-life issues yet still manages to be sweet, funny and romantic which makes the romance MORE romantic.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Listology # 27: Top 10 Films of 2012

FINALLY! This was a tough year. There are so many, many great films that I loved that probably would have made the top 10 every other year but I was able to whittle it down to 10 and the 5 runners-up.

10. Looper (Rian Johnson)
Grown-up science fiction are becoming a rare commodity these days. The whiz-bang nature of science fiction these days as evidenced by the dominance of superhero blockbusters can get tiring after a while. So it's quite refreshing to see Looper, a sophisticated, adult, R-rated and very complex time travel sci-fi thriller from writer-director Rian Johnson. It's about a group of assassins who murder people using time travel. The twisty nature of the film prevents me from saying anything further. It's thrilling, emotional and crazy in the best sense of the word. 

9. Frankenweenie (Tim Burton)
This is based on Tim Burton's early short film about a boy grieving for his beloved pet Sparky decides to bring him back to life. It's an ingenious very kid-friendly retelling of the Frankenstein tale and at the same time, a love letter to classic monster movies. It's Tim Burton's best film in years and pretty much returns to his roots as a filmmaker. 

8. Argo (Ben Affleck)
2012's Academy Award winner for Best Picture may not be my personal top choice but it earns its spot in my top 10. Ben Affleck further cements his reputation as one of cinema's most exciting filmmakers in tackling this true story of a daring rescue of six Americans trapped in Iran during the revolution. Even though you probably know the ending, the film manages to keep to you at the edge of your seat. It's also oddly quite moving. 

7. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)
This is a Quentin Tarantino film and as usual, there's a lot of controversy: the prevalent use of the n-word, the racial politics, the over-the-top violence, the lack of originality, Tarantino's off-screen comments. But as usual, love-him-or-hate-him, he delivers a fascinating film. I loved it. At first, I was troubled by the unusual structure which introduces what it ostensibly a fourth act but I've come to realize it's pretty clever. It's definitely a Tarantino film through and through. 

6. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
This is a very enigmatic film. Is it a thinly veiled critique of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology? Is it a critique on organized religion in general? Is it simply a character study on two strange and differently damaged individual? It's all of those things and at the same time not exactly. Well, whatever what you make of it, it still does not change the fact it features a stunning performance from Joaquin Phoenix and he's backed by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams who similarly give great performances. It's a film that stayed and haunted me. 

5. Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (Antoinette Jadaone)
This is a Filipino film. It's gonna be a long while before any of you have any access to it since it's obscure even over here but it's gaining a huge cult following among Filipino cinephiles. This is a film about a real-life character actress named Lilia Cuntapay who is often cast as a witch, a ghoul, ghost or creepy old lady in tons of Filipino horror films. It blurs the line between documentary and mockumentary in  really funny, absolutely beautiful ways. It's both a love letter to and satirical look at the Philippine movie industry from the eyes of this lowly character actress who finally gets a chance to shine. It's very funny yet also unexpectedly moving. 

4. The Kid With a Bike (Jean Pierre Dardenne/Luc Dardenne)
The Dardenne Brothers are known for their beautiful minimalist dramas. There's no finer example than this magnificent piece of work. A boy seeking to get back together with his deadbeat father who abandoned him forms an uneasy relationship with a woman who inexplicably takes him in as her own. The filmmakers have described this as a "fairy tale" but in a gritty, realistic setting. Yet another crown jewel in the filmography of these great filmmakers. 

3. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
A film that defies explanation. The plot, if you even consider it that, concerns an actor going around in a limo driven by a woman going to their "jobs", basically acting out different, strange scenarios. No explanation is given. This is a film that is guaranteed to surprise you. Films like these can, admittedly, become somewhat irritating and pretentious but this is anything but. It is an extraordinary piece of cinema that reminds me how much I love movies. 

2. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
This is pure Wes Anderson. And for me, that's not a bad thing. It's deceptively simple: A young boy falls in love with a young girl and they run away together but what director Wes Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola did is take that premise and create this entire magical, beautiful world around it with interesting characters and despite all the quirkiness going around, a surprising degree of depth as well as humor that we come to expect of him. It is a remarkable work. 

1. Amour (Michael Haneke) 
It's kind of neat that my #1 and #2 films are both love stories from the opposite sides of the life spectrum. Amour deservedly won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and is one of Michael Haneke's best works. Jean Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, both giants of French cinema, give amazing performances as an elderly couple struggling to keep it together when one of them falls ill. Like a lot of Haneke's works, this film will haunt you for days. And it is the best films of 2012. 

Runners-Up: Skyfall (Sam Mendes); Life of Pi (Ang Lee); 5 Broken Cameras (Emad Burnat/Guy Davidi); Lincoln (Steven Spielberg); The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard). 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (6/30/13 - 7/6/13)

Monsters University (Dan Scanlon) ***1/2 - PIXAR's first prequel may not be up to the high standards of the Golden Years of the studio (1995-2010) but it's still a really, fun visually eye-popping (as usual) animated feature. The plot is straight out of many college frat comedies (minus the sex and alcohol) as Mike and Sulley lead an underdog frat to their university's scare games though to their credit, it's given a fresh twist here. The film introduces a lot of wonderful and interesting new characters and opens up the monsters' world quite nicely. It provides laughs but also has a surprising amount of depth.

The Naked Spur (Anthony Mann) **** - Anthony Mann is one of those directors I'm largely ignorant of so I'm working my way through his filmography starting with this. Wow, what a film! A man hunts down wanted criminal to collect the reward money. He captures him (along with a girl) with the help of a few other characters and they try to make their way to Kansas to get the money. But things are not that easy and black & white, this Western has a lot of great, exciting scenes of adventure but it's also filled with morally ambiguous characters and surprisingly brutal and violent scenes (at least for its time) and occasionally even disturbing. Jimmy Stewart gives one of his career-best performances here, hitting every note beautifully. I will say this is probably one of my favorite Westerns and I've seen a lot of great Westerns.

The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola) ***1/2 - Sofia Coppola is, of course, one of world's cinema's most exciting directors working today. Going in, I'm thinking this film is going to be at least interesting. But it was more than interesting. This film is a true story about a group of upper-middle class teens who were responsible for a string of burglaries targeting the houses ot the rich and famous including Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. With this, Coppola treats the world of upper-middle-class, spoiled teens like an almost alien subculture that's inherently weird and detached despite the fact this world has been chronicled in numerous reality shows. Emma Watson is the top-billed name here and she, like the rest of the cast, was terrific but the discovery here is Israel Broussard, who plays the main male member of the Bling Ring. He should get more roles. The beautiful cinematography here co-photographed by the late great Harris Savides reminds us cinephiles what a truly great loss he is to the medium.

Despicable Me 2 (Pierre Coffin/Chris Renaud) **1/2 - I liked this film just about as much as I liked the first one. It's fun. It's entertaining. There's some pretty neat visuals. There are clever gags. There's some great voice work. There are funny jokes. It's cute. Like the last one, those Minions are the best part of the film and they get plenty of screentime this time around. The rest of the film is just barely okay without them. It's a good thing they're getting their own film (or is it a bad thing? Sometimes things are only good in small doses/supporting roles). I have to say those adorable little creatures are genius creations. Deceptively simply in their design, their funny noises, physical humor and cute appearances are truly fun to watch.