Sunday, September 29, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (9/22/13 - 9/29/13)

Incendies (Denis Villeneuve) ***1/2 - After their mother, a Middle Eastern immigrant to Canada dies, a twin brother and sister dig into her dark, violent and disturbing past in her war torn home country. The film is a gripping mystery which unravels piece by piece and goes into twists and turns which you may not expect but doesn't feel cheap or gimmicky. Even the shocking third act reveal feels earned. Director Villenueve is definitely a filmmaker worth watching out for.

Thursday's Children (Lindsay Anderson/Guy Brenton) *** - This came as a bonus feature in the If... Criterion Collection Blu-ray. It's a 20 minute documentary short about a school for deaf children in England narrated by Richard Burton. It won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short. The film's content is very dated. The teaching methods shown are no longer in use though the school is still around, according to the intro notes. What's left is a weirdly fascinating and rather politically incorrect look into how they taught deaf children at the time.

Everlasting Moments (Jan Troell) *** - A woman in the early 20th century with a drunk, abusive husband finds solace and happiness in photography. I have to say that this film feels kind of old-fashioned. The film has the look and feel of a period European film from the 70's and 80's, you know, the type that stereotypically gets nominated and win Foreign Film Oscars. It's not a bad thing at all though. The film is quite lovely with nice performances. Didn't blow me away but it's a well-made film for what it is.

 Sana Dati (Jerrold Tarog) **** - Filipino romantic movies usually make me run for the hills. Not this one. A young woman who's about to get married is in love with another man. That's all you have to know about it. It may sound like a tried, cliched story but the film does a fantastic job of subverting your expectations while also delivering a beautiful, emotional, heartbreaking love story. It manages to surprise without feeling like it cheats. It manages to be emotional without being overly manipulative or melodramatic. This has been a great year for Filipino films, I must say.

Prisoners (Denis Villenueve) *** - I recently saw Incendies, the director, Denis Villenueve's, previous film and I became an instant fan. The way he fashioned a mystery and let things unfold in a rather deliberate fashion in that film was quite brilliant. He employs more or less the same method here although the results are quite a bit more flawed. That's not to say this is a bad film. Far from it. The performances of the cast are fantastic. Hugh Jackman gives probably one of his career-best performances in this one as father trying to find his daughter and Jake Gyllenhaal matches him as the detective. It's beautifully shot by Roger Deakins. There are lots of interesting ways where the story could go but unfortunately, the third act pretty much becomes rather rote. There was potential for greatness but fell short. It's still overall a very good film and a fine Hollywood debut from Villenueve.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Great Films # 12: A Trip to the Moon (1902)

Directed by Georges Melies

It's been a while since I did one of these. Well, this is probably the oldest film I've ever featured here. This is widely believed to be the first science-fiction film ever made and the first FX -laden film ever made. This copy is unique because this is hand-painted COLORED version of A Trip to the Moon. I've only ever seen the black & white version since the colored version have been thought to be lost but it's here for your viewing pleasure. Though the film may seem silly and dated now, there's no denying that there's beauty and imagination involved and it is, after all, a groundbreaking film which help shape the art form as we know today. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (9/15/13 - 9/21/13)

The Breakfast Club (John Hughes) **1/2 - I was dreading this. It doesn't sound very appealing to me. Actually, I have to admit for a while, I was liking it a bit. The performances are pretty good and I was almost willing to forgive the fact that I saw every freaking irritating cliche I see in many teen movies and teen TV shows being used. Then slowly but surely, it starts to become a whiney, woe-is-me fest that I feared it was going to be. Personally, I don't think this is depicting teenagers as much as pandering to them. It's almost condescending if you really think about it. It is NOT a great film. I would go so far as to say I blame it for all the FLAWS of subsequent teen movies that were influenced by this. But I'm being too harsh. I didn't hate it. But I didn't love it. And please, repeat after me: JOHN HUGHES IS NOT A GREAT FILMMAKER. The sooner people realize that, the sooner we can all evolve as a species. Thanks.

The Guerrilla is a Poet (Sari Dalena/Kiri Dalena) *** - This is a film about the Philippines' most famous communist, Jose Maria Sison. It's part documentary, part narrative film with real footage and actual interviews with the real life participants including Sison himself cut into a full narrative film. The result is always interesting if not always completely successful. Despite the great performances from the re-enactments, I found myself preferring to listen to the real life accounts directly from the horses' mouth. Overall, still a compelling, interesting film worth watching. 

(*NOTE: I got injured watching this movie. At one point in the film, I had to go to the bathroom. I was making my way down the steps when I neglected to see one last step and I tripped. I used both arms to break my fall and I hurt my left elbow. It wasn't so bad at first. I finished the film and even went to see Rush. By the time I got out of that movie, the pain was really intense. I went to the emergency room. Thank God nothing was broken. It was a bone contusion i.e. a bruise. But it's still painful and I'm typing this with one hand. LOL.)

Rush (Ron Howard) ***1/2- I'm no fan of director Ron Howard. As far as I'm concerned, his best contribution to the world of entertainment is executive producing and narrating Arrested Development. It still is but this film manages to be rise above his generally mediocre film output. This is thanks to the combination of a superb performance of Daniel Brühl as Niki Lauda (Chris Hemsworth was good but Brühl was something else) and the cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantel who manages to inject a lot more visual flair than the usually pedestrian Ron Howard visuals. Some credit has to be given also to Peter Morgan's script which managed to make me, someone who knows next to nothing of Formula 1 racing and not really all that interested in it, gripped for a couple of hours. It's not a groundbreaking film but it's still a fine piece if entertainment.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (9/8/13 - 9/14/13)

Napoleon (Abel Gance) ***1/2 - This is the 5-hour Kevin Brownlow cut of the film. It actually sort of hurts me to give it the rating that I'm giving. It's high, yes, but it SHOULD have been higher. This gargantuan biopic on Napoleon has a remarkable and impressive first three hours. From the first scene, it really grabs with its truly breathtaking and bravura filmmaking. There were moments that I got goosebumps, it was so impressive. Then the third act begins when for some reason it becomes a romantic comedy using an unnecessarily large chunk of time on Napoleon's romance with his first wife. It is so frustrating that it was on its way to becoming one of the best biopics ever made only to have it break like that. But still, for the first 3 hours, it's a stunning piece of cinema. I would still recommend it.

Pale Flower (Masahiro Shinoda) ***1/2 - A newly-paroled Yakuza member (who served time for murder) goes into his old gambling haunts then befriends and falls in love with a mysterious female gambler. This films reminds me of Wong Kar-Wai with its beautiful cinematography and lowkey/chaste love story. It's surprisingly largely non-violent for a film centering on the Yakuza but still manages to have an aura of tension about it. Violence can explode at many minute! I wasn't completely blown away by it but it's still a worthwhile piece of work.

Kicking and Screaming (Noah Baumbach) ***1/2 - It's one of Noah Baumbach's early works and as a fan of The Squid and the Whale was really curious to see this. It's about a group of college students who just graduate or are about to graduate. It's a wonderful film about young adult characters each struggling to move on to the next phase of their lives. This movie could have gone wrong in so many different ways. It could have been boring, the characters could have been annoying, it could have been too preachy, etc. But it's almost none of that. Instead, what I got are strong hints of a terrific cinematic voice in writer-director Noah Baumbach. It's a delightful, funny, poignant film.

This Is The End (Seth Rogen/Evan Goldberg) *** - It is an excellent idea: An end-of-the-world Biblical Apocalypse horror-comedy and have all the characters be celebrities and they play themselves! The results? Well, it's hit and miss. More hits than misses but there are enough misses to knock it a few points off my book. This entire notion of having the actors play a version of themselves wasn't really explored deeply enough to make it a bit more cutting and satirical. There was potential there but I think it wasn't explored enough. But still, there are a lot of really good laughs and I have to say Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have potential as filmmakers. I see genuine talent there.

The Way, Way Back (Nat Faxon/Jim Rash) ***1/2 - This film surprised me. I really didn't expect it to like it this much. The plot is kind of a generic coming-of-age teen dramedy flick that we've seen before in various other reincarnations. The narrative beats and the tropes are familiar. However, with this film, the characters are wonderfully drawn and fleshed out that they really come to life (the mopey, angsty teen in the center manages to be more endearing than annoying, the mom's douchey boyfriend is not a one-dimensional cartoon, etc.). It also helps that the ensemble of actors playing them is quite strong with Sam Rockwell being the stand-out. It's funny, poignant and sweet without being cloying.

Clue (Jonathan Lynn) **1/2 - Someone highly recommended this film to me. It is without a doubt probably the best film based on a board game ever made. I've never played the board game (though all the names sound maddeningly familiar, despite never having seen the film before) so I'm gonna judge this as a comedic whodunit. It's simple: A group of disparate strangers get invited to house by a mysterious stranger and then bodies start to pile up. It's entertaining. It's fun to watch especially with this ensemble of actors (Can't go wrong with Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Michael McKean, etc.). There are funny stuff. But all in all I found it all just "eh, it's okay". I'm sorry I'm not gonna be part of this cult. Excuse me while I watch A Shot in the Dark again.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Great Scenes # 58: Paris, Texas (1984)

Directed by Wim Wenders

A man whose wife left him abandons his son under the care of his brother returns years later to reunite them. The film is by Wim Wenders who also did The Wings of Desire. Personally, I think this film is better than that one. This scene, which serves as the film's climax, has Travis the man, talking to his estranged wife who is now working as a peep show sex performer. So to put it in crass terms, this is probably the most emotional scene ever filmed that's set in a peep show booth. Beautifully performed by Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski, this is sublime piece of cinema. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (9/1/13 - 9/7/13)

The Phantom of the Opera (Rupert Julian) ***1/2 - The quality of the print I saw wasn't the best and the score that accompanied it was repetitive and oftentimes not in sync with the film. Despite that, however, Lon Chaney's creepy, frightening but layered performance as the title character shines through it all. I'm also impressed with the production design. Very lavish and elaborate and I was also surprised at the color sequence. A colored silent film! Now I've seen everything.

Shadows and Fog (Woody Allen) ***1/2 - This is widely regarded as "minor", at best, Woody Allen and me not being a Woody Allen completist, this wasn't in my top list of priorities of films to be seen. But a friend of mine is a huge fan and highly recommended it to me. And he was right. This is delightful and funny parody/tribute to German expressionist films, specifically Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst. It is gorgeously photographed and the mostly modern sounding dialogue at the backdrop of a period piece actually works quite well. I will agree that this is one of Woody's more underrated pieces.

Elysium (Neil Blomkamp) **1/2 - Well, it's not as good as District 9, first and foremost. The best science fiction are often allegories, a commentary if you will, on the present day. District 9 was one. This one tries to be one but it is no longer an allegory but more of a polemic. Despite the fact that I basically agree with the politics of the film, which tackle several currently controversial topics like health care, immigration and the whole 1% vs. 99%, the message is delivered with the subtlety of a jackhammer. The action is enjoyable enough but the lack of subtlety and nuance, oddly enough, neuters the important message that the film wishes to convey. It's overall a decent film but a wasted opportunity.

To Be or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch) **** - A group of actors try to bamboozle Nazis occupying Warsaw during World War II. Wow. I can see why this is such an influential comedy. What's even more remarkable is that it was made DURING World War II (kind of like The Great Dictator and almost as great as that movie). The film very deftly mixes comedy and actual suspense to create a really fun, hilarious rollicking film but amazingly without trivializing the seriousness and gravity of its subject matter. This film is absolutely terrific.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Great Scenes # 57: Duck Soup (1933)

Directed by Leo McCarey

This is probably one of the Marx Brothers most famous (and funniest) sequences. Like in all Marx Brothers films, the plot really does not matter and are simply a through-line to which gags, both physical and verbal, are weaved into. And of course, the Marx Brothers are one of the best at it and this is one of the finest examples of it. Describing it would be redundant. Just watch it and laugh. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (8/25/13 - 8/31/13)

Heat (Michael Mann) ***1/2 - This is one of those films I classify under Why The Hell Haven't I Seen This? category. Well, I finally did. This was touted as the first time Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are on-screen together at last but in the over 2.5 hour movie, they only share really three scenes together. But that doesn't mean this isn't a less compelling, less thrilling epic crime drama. I have to say, mainstream Hollywood studios don't make films these much anymore. An action picture where they actually take time to let the plot breathe, give characters complexity and depth and actually build on it to create a rich, deep yet really exciting picture that respects its audience.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off (John Hughes) ** - I like the theme and the message of this film: Lighten up, take time to enjoy youth, have some fun, etc. But I'd like it a lot better if the title character/main protagonist wasn't such an obnoxious, borderline sociopathic asshole. I really loathe people like him and I have a very hard time cheering for him which the film clearly wants to do. Alan Ruck's character Frye saves it from being a complete waste of time, especially in the latter half of the film. It's not enough for it to save it for me. There are a few laughs here and there but all in all, I don't understand the adoration this film has received.

Kick Ass 2 (Jeff Wadlow) **1/2 - I liked the first Kick Ass movie though I'm not as big a fan as a lot of people were. This sequel, however, is a significant step-down from the original. The problem here is that writer-director Jeff Wadlow wanted to blend the over-the-top satirical dark humor and some genuine serious heart and pathos. Though there are good moments here and there, the film is overall a tonal mess. So much so that it becomes quite jarring and occasionally even unpleasant. Flashes of potential show that there could have been a great movie in there but alas....

Portrait of Jennie (William Dieterle) **** - After two less than satisfactory cinematic experiences in a row, I think I needed a palette cleanser and boy what a palette it is. Speaking of palette, this film is about an impoverished painter who encounters a little girl who seems to appear out of time. Then begins a beautiful, romantic love story which inspires him to paint his masterpiece. It's such a stunning, beautiful piece of work. The cinematography, which made some shots look like they're paintings is simply genius but only serves to heighten the beautiful love story that's about to unfold. Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones are both impressive. This film is a masterpiece. It's what great films should do and should aspire to.

OTJ: On the Job (Erik Matti) *** - A young detective and a veteran cop uncovers a nefarious scheme where inmates are surreptitiously released in order to do hit jobs for corrupt, high-ranking elected officials. Director Erik Matti is probably one of the very few MAINSTREAM Filipino director who deliver quality work. I'm not a fan of Tiktik but this solid thriller, which is an improvement, shows that he's a force to be reckoned with. Though far from perfect, it's got flair, style and very well-paced (though I must say he should stop casting Joey Marquez). I hope more mainstream Pinoy films follow suit.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (John Hughes) *** - Although not the comedic masterpiece some people say it is, this road comedy about a man who simply wants to get home to family for Thanksgiving but nearly everything that can go wrong, does is quite funny. This is largely thanks to the comedic expertise of Steve Martin and John Candy who mines the very simple premise and pulls out more than a decent amount of laughs while remaining believable characters so the bittersweet ending didn't come from nowhere.