Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Great Scenes # 65: The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Directed by James Whale
She only appears in the last few minutes of the film but left such an indelible mark on film history that she's almost as iconic as her on-screen "groom". The sequel to the classic horror adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic is strange, weird and beautiful in so many different ways. It features a beautiful performance by Boris Karloff who now gets a few lines in this time around. Of course, Elsa Lanchester gives a short but unforgettable performance as the title character.
Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Great Scenes # 64: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Directed by John Landis
In this day and age of CGI effects where werewolf transformations can easily be done by morphing and computer animated wolves, this type of old-fashioned make-up prosthetics and practical effects are an endangered species. Luckily we still have the classic films to revisit them. In An American Werewolf in London, a man gets bitten and transforms into a werewolf and we see the transformation in horrific, painful details. This is courtesy of Rick Baker who won the very first Makeup Oscar for this film. Give me this over CGI any day. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (10/20/13 - 10/26/13)

Carrie (Kimberly Peirce) **1/2 - I think this film would've been more acclaimed and I probably would have liked it more if this was the first film version of Stephen King's novel. But alas, this film stands in the spectre of Brian De Palma's widely revered 1976 horror classic which I consider one of my favorite horror films of all time. Technically, this is not a bad film at all. It's well made and well acted. But apart from updating it to reflect contemporary times (cell phones, internet, etc.) and a few other differences here and there, the film didn't do enough things differently or say anything particularly new to justify it being made again. I expressed concerns over Chloe Moretz being cast as Carrie since I find her a bit too beautiful and confident to play such a character. Sadly, I was right. Though Moretz's acting is faultless, her physical appearance and overall persona distracted me from buying her as a shy vulnerable outcast. It's fine but you're better off watching the classic 1976 version.

The Uninvited (Lewis Allen) ***1/2 - A brother and sister buy a seaside house with a mysterious past and a ghostly presence (but somehow no light bulbs). This is a nice good old-fashioned spooky haunted house movie which, despite its age, still manages to give me the creeps without even relying on jump scares and gore. It even managed to surprise with an unexpected plot twist in the end. Recommended by a friend. It's good stuff.

Lauriana (Mel Chionglo) *** - It's the early 1950's and a young orphaned boy befriends a soldier stationed in his hometown. The soldier takes a dance hall girl, the title character, as a lover and the three become a sort of surrogate family until the soldier's dark, fucked up past starts manifesting itself. This film was written by my mentor, Ricky Lee, so I'm being fair to it. It's very well-acted and very well-made though ultimately kind of flawed and kind of anti-climactic. There's a great film somewhere in there and it seems to be headed that way but it dropped the ball in the third act. Overall, still worth a look.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Great Scenes # 63: Psycho (1960)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I looked it up and I can't believe it took THIS long for me to features one of the most famous scenes in the history of cinema. Since I'm featuring all horror movies this month, it couldn't be better timing. This is probably one of the most extraordinary examples of filmmaking especially during a time when explicit violence and nudity in mainstream American cinema is considered taboo. I recently revisited Psycho and it's amazing how it holds up. Alfred Hitchcock is not called "The Master" for nothing. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Great Scenes # 62: Poltergeist (1982)

"Directed by" Tobe Hooper
Notice the quotes I wrote on the phrase "directed by". That's because it's an open secret that the real director of this film was producer Steven Spielberg. Tobe Hooper was allegedly credited because there's a rule in the Director's Guild that would prevent Spielberg from taking credit because he also directed E.T. that was released within weeks of one another. There are conflicting reports on who actually directed it but no matter who directed it, there's a freaky scene in the middle where one of the paranormal investigators starts peeling off his face. It's shocking and gory and a jolt to the senses. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (10/13/13 - 10/19/13)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 (Cody Cameron/Kris Pearn) **1/2 - I liked the original quite a bit. It had a clever, original concept combined with some funny gags and great animation. The sequel still has great animation and clever, funny gags particularly the ones involving the "Foodimals". But apart from those, the plot is kind of predictable and generic and a lot of the surprises and cleverness of the original is sadly lost. Although I must say, the Foodimals must be this franchise's version of the Minions. Those critters are undeniably fun to watch and like the Minions, it simply highlights how bland the human characters and the actual story of it really is.

Colgados de un Sueno (Antonio Perez Molero) **1/2 - I walked into this having no idea what it's about. It was inexpensive screening at the Spanish Film Festival. As it turns out, it's a documentary about Fernando Zobel, a Spanish abstract painter (and I suspect a relative of the Zobel-Ayalas, the rich Spanish-Filipino family who owns the theaters and indeed a lot of corporations and properties over here). I had no knowledge and little interest in the subject. However, great documentaries can grip an audience who have little knowledge and interest in their subject matters. Unfortunately, this film is not for the uninitiated. I feel like a Philistine saying that this was a tough sit for me because this documentary is aimed at people already interested and knowledgeable about the subject. It's well-made but only, AT BEST, only occasionally mildly interesting for me (and I consider myself fairly open-minded and cultured but this is a blind spot). I recommend this only to the initiated.

Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass) ***1/2 - Despite the fact that I already knew the ending, having heard about this story AS IT HAPPENED, just like what he managed to do with United 93, director Paul Greengrass managed to mine a lot of suspense out of it and crafted a real edge-of-your-seat thriller. Tom Hanks also gives one of the best performances he has ever given in quite a while. One of my fears about this film is that the Somali pirates will be portrayed as cartoony villains. But to my surprise, the film treated them fairly, humanizing them and making the audience understand why they are doing this without glamorizing or justifying their actions. A huge chunk of the credit must go to newcomer Barkhad Abdi who creates a memorable human character. I know about the charges of inaccuracies but frankly, I'm just judging as a film. It's not a documentary.

The Phantom of the Paradise (Brian DePalma) ***1/2 - It's a weird, crazy, far out early Brian DePalma that's basically a VERY loose adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera setting it up as a modern-day rock musical. The film is visually spectacular in a very DePalma-esque type of way. It's also quite funny and very biting in its satire on the way show business treats its artists. My one beef (hehehe) is that since it's a musical, the songs are not as great as the film itself. They're not bad. They're just pretty good but I feel that the story and craft of the film deserve better songs than what was there. But still, a pretty darn good rock musical. I feel like going as the Phantom of the Paradise for Halloween.

Passion (Brian De Palma) ** - Like many cinephiles, I'm a huge fan of director Brian De Palma, up to and including many of his later works which a lot of mainstream critics tend to give mixed to negative reviews to. I was hoping this would be again the case here but alas. This film pretty much harkens back to De Palma's erotic thrillers from the 1980's. This is a woman-centric look into the backstabbing nature of the corporate world. Think Showgirls but instead of Vegas, it's in shiny office buildings. It borders on camp but not quite to make it great. The third act goes crazy in the way that's very De Palma but a lot of it are stuff he has done before and done better in other films so he's sadly repeating himself and not in a particularly great way. This is a weak, disappointing effort from a great filmmaker.

The Mummy (Karl Freund) *** - This is the only major Universal monster I have not seen until now. I must say that it is sadly my least favorite among all the Universal monster movies I've seen so far. However, it's not a bad film at all. It's all largely thanks to Boris Karloff who plays the title character. He is creepy, scary and yet gives the character depth and humanity. Karloff alone makes it worth seeing and makes this film superior to anything Brendan Fraser and CGI-action sequences can offer.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Great Scenes # 61: American Psycho (2000)

Directed by Mary Harron

This is probably one of the most memorable on-screen murders since Psycho and it gave me a new appreciation for the song "Hip to Be Square". In this scene, Patrick Bateman waxes poetic about Huey Lewis and the News, particularly their song "Hip to Be Square" as he prepares to murder a drunk associate. It's a bizarre, strange and really darkly funny scene. This film pretty much helped make Christian Bale the major actor that he is now. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (10/6/13 - 10/12/13)

O Apostolo (Fernando Cortizo) *** - I saw this Spanish stop-motion animated feature at a film festival. It's about a convict who escapes from prison and goes to a mysterious village where his partner hid some precious jewels. Beautiful animation and goes into twists and turns I didn't expect (since I had very little idea of what this was about going in). All in all, interesting but left me a bit cold.

Kung Fu Divas (Onat Diaz) *** - This is one of the very rare mainstream Filipino comedies that dare to try something unique and different. A perpetual beauty pageant loser meets up with a beautiful rival who sweeps in and takes her crown. It turns out she's her long-lost twin sister and they were banished from a Chinese tribe and they got kung fu powers. Yeah, I know. The concept is wonderfully weird and far out. It's both a satire on beauty pageants and the Filipino obssession with it and a spoof of sorts of kung fu/wu xia films. The first act or so which is mostly of the former is the most successful. It's sharp, biting, funny and accurate on beauty pageants. But latter part is a bit less successful and often gets a bit overwhelmed and some of it didn't quite work. It got back on the right track in the end. Overall, it's a commendable, solid effort.

Samurai Rebellion (Masaki Kobayashi) **** - Between this and Harakiri, Masaki Kobayashi must specialize in samurai movies that will make you cry. This one's about a samurai warrior whose lord asks that his mistress be married to his son. Reluctantly, they agree. But then his son and the mistress fall in love and just as they have their first child together, the mistress is ordered back to the castle. They refuse. Let's say shit hits the fan. The film takes a while to get to the samurai action but it's an emotional roller-coaster ride getting there and by the time the action hits, you'll be too busy crying to see the astounding sword play. It's masterfully directed and Toshiro Mifune has never been better! Kurosawa may get a lot of press but I think Kobayashi deserves some attention too.

Island of Lost Souls (Erle C. Kenton) **** - So far, I've only seen the 1995 adaptation of the HG Wells novel with Marlon Brando which was of course kind of grotesque and fascinating in a car wreck sort of way. Despite this not having as much on-screen gore or super elaborate makeup as the remake, I found this one far, far more effective. Charles Laughton is wonderfully creepy as Dr. Moreau. I'm thinking this was pre-code so it's also quite racy for a 1930's film (borderling bestiality alert!). The climax is still quite chilling, frightening and shocking, even.

Metro Manila (Sean Ellis) ***1/2 - A Filipino family from the rural provinces in hard times try their luck at a better future in the big city of Metro Manila but only finding even MORE hardship, crime and corruption. As someone who's familiar with Filipino cinema, this basic plot has been tackled by Filipino filmmakers in the past, most notably Lino Brocka and Brillante Mendoza. However, British director Sean Ellis somehow was able to add a few fresh twists by adding the crime thriller element. Also, as an outsider shooting a story about another society and culture, the film captures Manila with its sights, sounds and numerous idiosyncracies with a fresh perspective. Though I must say that as a speaker of both languages (and of course as a screenwriter and someone who does this type of thing for a living) some of the dialogue and English subtitles need a bit of fixing but overall, still a solid, excellently crafted thriller.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Great Scenes # 60: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Directed by Drew Goddard
This is probably one of the best horror films (if you can call it that) in the past few years. It's a film which gleefully and intelligently deconstructs horror films in a manner befitting the genre. I would advise people who haven't seen the film NOT to view the clip above because part of the joy of it is the surprise that it happens and when it does it's a joy and wonder to behold.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (9/29/13 - 10/5/13)

Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone) **** - This is one of those film that I classify under Why The Hell Haven't I Seen This In Full Yet? The length is pretty intimidating but once the film starts to unfold, it really hooks you in and the 3.5 hours almost just flies by. This is the final work from Sergio Leone and it's evident that this is the work of true master of the medium. Everything here is perfect or near-perfect: The performances, the cinematography, the design, not to mention Ennio Morricone's goosebump-inducing score. It's a stunning piece of work which stands among the best gangster epics out there.

Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron) **** - The film is a visually astonishing thrill ride. But it's one with emotional heft and genuine artistry. I have grown to become jaded with all the CGI special effects these days. Seldom does it wow me. This one actually managed to wow me from the first frame down to the last. I don't remember the last time I went, "OMG. How did they do that?" in an FX-laded film but this one, after seeing, made me felt like that once again. All the while, it really felt like they actually went to space! The 13 minute continuous opening shot and those amazing sequences where the camera goes from a wide shot to a character POV shot is very impressive indeed. I saw this on IMAX 3D, something I very seldom do because the IMAX theaters are twice as expensive and way out of my way and I generally think 3D is a scam but this is one of the very few exceptions. Truly a work of a master filmmaker.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Great Scenes # 59: The Sixth Sense (1999)

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
For the month of October, all the films that will be featured in my "Great Scenes" (or maybe "Great Movies") series will be in the horror genre. The first one is rather light on the horror elements and really more of an emotional scene. Before M. Night Shyamalan's name became synonymous with being terrible, he broke through in the film industry in a big way with The Sixth Sense, a huge horror hit about a young boy who sees dead people which has a surprise shocker of an ending. This scene comes near the end before the big reveal. Personally, I think this should have won Oscars for both Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment. Watch it and see why.