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.