Ekstra (The Bit Player) (Jeffrey Jeturian) ***1/2 - This is a film first screened in Cinemalaya that has been commercially released in theaters this week. It's a wonderful little slice-of-life dramedy about the life of a professional extra, background players who go from TV/film project to project. Vilma Santos, one of Philippine cinema's most well-known actresses, star as the title character so it's pretty ironic to see the most famous person in the cast playing someone who's supposed to be this anonymous background player. I find this project pretty daring for its kind and considering that it was co-financed/released by a mainstream studio who I know (from first-hand experience since I pitched a sort of similar idea to them) wouldn't want to poke some inside fun at their expense. Vilma Santos excels in her first foray in indie filmmaking.
Metropolis (Fritz Lang) **** - I've seen this
film before and I don't usually re-review films that I've seen before but like
with Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag, it's
been a while since I've seen it plus I saw the COMPLETE Metropolis (or at least as complete as it has
ever been with only really two key scenes missing). The film has added scenes
that enhances an already classic picture (the climactic scene is now even MORE
exciting). If you haven't already seen it, please do!
Arbitrage (Nicholas Jarecki) *** -
Richard Gere gives probably one of his career-best performances in this
thriller-of-sorts about an ethically challenged billionaire who tries to cover
his tracks after his mistress dies in a car crash he caused. I hate to damn this
with faint praise because it's overall a solid, entertaining, well-acted
grown-up film with good intentions. It's a good film, not a GREAT one and great
ones have been made with similar themes and subject matters. Still, Richard Gere
is pretty fantastic. You know, studios used to do these types of pictures in the
70's. What the hell happened?
and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen) **** - One is a story about a successful
ophtalmologist trying to get his neurotic mistress killed. The other is a story
about a filmmaker falling in love with another woman while filming a documentary
on his pompous, more successful brother-in-law. The first one is kind of dark,
dramatic, deep and thought-provoking and the other one is quite hilarious. I
don't know how Woody Allen did it but he made the two fit together perfectly.
It's not my most favorite Woody Allen films but it is one of his very, very
The Conjuring (James Wan) ***1/2 - This
is probably one of the best horror films in recent years. It's actually kind of
scary! This is based on a "true" story (The skeptic in me doubts the film is
super-duper accurate but who knows?) of a married couple who are paranormal
researchers who help a family being terrorized by a malevolent spirit. Whether
or not you actually believe this is even remotely accurate is irrelevant, it is
pretty darn scary. Director James Wan shows remarkable talent utilizing all the
horror tropes, cliches and tricks, turning it up to 11 and making it all seem
fresh again and it's very effective.
Winchester '73 (Anthony Mann) **** - My
exploration of director Anthony Mann's filmography continues with this Western.
I've been told time and again that this one is pretty fantastic.....and IT IS!
The title character (of sorts) is a highly coveted rifle which was won by the
character played by James Stewart and through a series of events, it gets passed
around which gives the film its very unique structure, almost episodic in a way.
Despite the short running time of less than 90 minutes, the film feels very
deep, rich and epic filled with fascinating characters. It's beautifully
photographed and has great action scenes. Anthony Mann is rising in my list of
Lee Daniels' The Butler (Lee Daniels)
*** - Over thirty years of the historical struggle for civil rights in the
United States is seen through the eyes of the African-American White House
butler, Cecil Gaines. Inspired by a real-life person, Lee Daniels' film hits
many of the right and expected notes which personally I don't mind as long as
it's done in earnest but unfortunately it's not enough to turn this into
anything more than an above-average TV movie rather than a real piece of cinema.
Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey were great. The supporting cast is uneven,
particularly the presidents. I thought John Cusack was ridiculous and
unbelievable as Nixon but James Marsden was outstanding as JFK. The best part of
the film was his segment, IMO. The real standout in the supporting cast is David
Oyelowo as Gaines' elder son. The film is admirable and well-made but nothing