Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Typhoon Haiyan

This is somewhat off-topic from my blog but I think it's important. Earlier this month, my country was hit with the strongest typhoon on record, Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda in the Philippines). It has, to date, killed way over 5,000 people and devastated millions of lives. Now, my city wasn't directly hit. We only got a bit of wind and rain. Nothing serious. But people in the islands down south weren't so lucky. This short film I posted here was taken by an American (I think) storm chaser who was chronicling the typhoon from Tacloban, the province that experienced the worst of the typhoon. I've personally experienced my share of typhoons, even strong ones. My house was built as typhoon-proof but I don't think it would have survived unscathed if we had been directly hit. This was shot from a hotel, one of the nicest ones in that area and even they experienced floods and damaged roofs. So if you haven't already, do try and help out. Thank you. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (11/17/13 - 11/23/13)

The Counselor (Ridley Scott) **1/2 - I'm guessing my low expectations made me like this film more than I should but yeah, I did. I think the film's huge expectations: The combination of an acclaimed cast, the debut screenplay of Cormac McCarthy, a great novelist and of course to a lesser extent Ridley Scott (who's been hit & miss). I love Cormac McCarthy and his style is prevalent throughout this film but it fails to translate cinematically. The film is often hard to follow and goes on tangents that would work in a novel but NOT a screenplay. That said, the film looks great and the cast delivers. My favorite performance is, surprisingly, Cameron Diaz's who gives her best performance since Being John Malkovich.. It's a deeply flawed, rather unsatisfactory film but not awful.

Three Outlaw Samurai (Hideo Gosha) ***1/2 - A wandering samurai stumbles upon three men who has kidnapped a young woman. It turns out they're peasants who are desperate to make the ruthless administrator listen to them. He takes up their cause. It's no Seven Samurai (but then again, few things are) but the film still is simply a lean, mean, exciting samurai flick (of the samurai-helping-underdog subgenre). If you love samurai movies, this is a wonderful solid entry to the genre.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence) ***1/2 - I liked the first Hunger Games just fine. It didn't make me want to read the books but I enjoyed it mostly due to Jennifer Lawrence's terrific performance. But this one. Oh, boy. Had the first one been as good as this, I would have bought and read all of it. Coming into this largely not knowing what's going to happen, I thought it was absolutely terrific. Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic but she is complimented by a very strong supporting cast who ALMOST steal the show. The film is also very well-paced. Even though it's almost 2.5 hours long, it just breezed by. NOW, I fully and completely get why The Hunger Games is so popular.

Eating Raoul (Paul Bartel) ***1/2 - A sexually repressed/very prudish married couple trying to buy a restaurant start killing off sex perverts/swingers in order to get the money to do so. This was a wonderfully sick, twisted, really goofy black comedy which, on paper, could have gone woefully wrong in a lot of ways but co-writer-director-star Paul Bartel manage to maintain the right level of goofiness and heightened reality enough to make the audience go along for the ride. It's the type of comedy which will make you think, "This is so wrong" while laughing at the same time.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (11/10/13 - 11/16/13)

Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah) ***1/2 - By virtue of its title, I went "SOLD!" but then it's also directed by Sam Peckinpah so it's DOUBLE-sold. This is about a rich Mexican crime lord who orders his network to bring the head of the man who knocked up his young daughter and Warren Oates, an American expat, is caught up on it. This one isn't QUITE as lurid or exploitive as the title suggests. Well, it is sort of. There are lots of nudity and violence but Peckinpah actually takes his time to build character and story so when it comes, it was quite satisfying. It mixes absurd dark humor, romance and violence very well. It's pretty darn awesome.

Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Na Kayon Ngayon? (Eddie Romero) ***1/2 - The title is roughly translated as "This Is How It Was Then, What's It Like Today?" It's about poor Filipino country boy whose mom just passed away and being a bit of a dumbass, he accidentally burns down his house. And so begins his journey. One thing that surprised me about this film is that it is a COMEDY. Well, at least it starts out as a comedy but slowly becomes more and more serious as it goes along without you noticing. It's a very Filipino film from the get-go, very Filipiniana. However, the structure is kind of Fellini-esque in a way. Sometimes I find myself thinking, had Fellini been Filipino, it would probably be like this. Overall, it's an imperfect film (a bit overlong) but its message is still shockingly relevant today and imparts it without being preachy.

Ang Alamat ni China Doll (The Legend of China Doll) (Adolfo Alix Jr.) *** - I often complain films being too long. Though seldom do I complain about them being too short. Well, this is one of those times. Presented in a non-linear structure, the film is about a young woman who is a criminal turned state witness with the code name "China Doll" and engaged in a bizarre, sick triangle between an ambitious journalist and her police handler. The script is by Lav Diaz, director known for his very, very long films (9 to 11 hours long). I don't know if the director clipped the script but the film is 90 minutes long and I feel we only got a very fleeting glimpse of what really should have been a 2.5 hour (at least) epic to fully explore the many intricacies that this film only merely touched upon.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (11/3/13 - 11/9/13)

Blow Out (Brian De Palma) **** - As someone who considers himself a Brian De Palma fan, it's amazing that I haven't seen one of his most major works until now. John Travolta, in probably one of his very best roles, plays a movie sound man who records something that is evidence of a rather vast consipiracy. Take The Conversation and Blow Up, add a heavy dose of Hitchcock and turn it up to 11 and you get Blow Out. It's De Palma at his VERY, VERY best. Here he orchestrates suspense while seemingly deconstructing film (well, the old-school film anyway). I didn't know much about it so the many twists and turns this film had was a thrill. Excellent picture all around.
Sapi (Possession) (Brillante Mendoza) **1/2 - I'm a fan of director Brillante Mendoza's work so when I heard he's made a horror film, I got interested (well, he already sort of did with Kinatay). This one is about two competing TV networks each trying to make a story of demonic possessions in order to boost ratings. And the reporters and cameramen involved start getting strange visions. This movie is kind of strange. It seems that it's trying to satirize the Philippines' TV network wars and the exploitive nature of mass media while someone is trying to butt in trying to make it into a horror film. The combination just didn't quite gel and results in neither one being completely satisfactory. There potentially interesting ideas and visuals but all in all, it's Mendoza's weakest work to date.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Great Films # 13: The Great Silence (1968)

Directed by Sergio Corbucci

It's time to feature yet another spaghetti Western. This time, it's the criminally under-seen film The Great Silence. I know why it's so under-seen. It's got a very downer of an ending. So much so that a "happier" ending had to be re-shot for certain markets. It's a pretty brilliant anti-Western in a way with brilliant performances from Jean-Louis Tritignant and Klaus Kinski. It's a film that subverts your expectations of the Western genre. Plus it's got a BEAUTIFUL score by Ennio Morricone. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Weekly Round-Up (10/27/13 - 11/2/13)

The Family (Luc Besson) ** - The terrific, fun performances of the main four cast members playing the title characters (Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfieffer, Dianna Agron, John D'Leo) makes this film not a complete waste of time and somewhat watchable. The film is all over the place. Mixing genre elements is tricky (brutal mob action and broad comedy) and Luc Besson isn't very good at it. It gets better in the third act (which includes a clever meta gag) but it's not enough to elevate the film. That said, the performances of the four actors are fun to watch since they have actual chemistry. If only there was a better movie built around them.

The Descent (Neil Marshall) ***1/2 - I regret not checking this out when it was theatrically released here. I've since heard a lot of great things about it. I sure am glad I took the time to finally check it out. A group of young women go spelunking in an unknown cave. They get lost and they encounter a group of flesh eating humanoids. For me getting lost and trapped in a dark scary cave is scary enough. Throwing in flesh-eating cave dwellers just puts it over the top. It's a lean, mean horror film with some inventive cinematography. Plus I love the fact that it's female-driven too!

Hellraiser (Clive Barker) *** - I'm surprised by how much I don't know much about this film even though I'm familiar with the Pinhead character (who surprisingly enough is barely in this film). A man summons dark demons and escapes them and needs to suck life out of living blood in order to restore himself. The plot is a tad thin but the film does have very effective gore and inventive makeup effects which managed to make me squirm quite a bit (the skinless man is not for the faint of heart). And I've seen a lot! Not one of my favorites but a solid enough Halloween viewing.

Black Sunday (The Mask of Satan) (Mario Bava) ***1/2 - I've been catching up on the works of Mario Bava lately and I think this might be my favorite of his so far. A witch being executed puts a curse on the bloodline of her executioner. Flashforward 200 years and she's resurrected eager to possess her good doppelganger. The film is beautifully designed and shot with really, really spooky, disturbing elements (I mean, that mask is...whoah) that mixes and matches up the vampires, ghosts and zombie legends. Also features a really chilling score.

Thor: The Dark World (Alan Taylor) *** - This is not a bad film. But it's not a particularly GREAT one either. That said, if you enjoyed the first one, there's no reason for you not to like this one. Thor is back saving the world (no, the UNIVERSE) again and CGI monsters and FX assault our senses. The film lacks the sense of humor of the first one but it does have one great joke that's almost worth the price of admission. There's nothing here that we haven't seen before but it does have a few nifty moments that makes this worthwhile viewing. It's inoffensive, enjoyable fluff.

The Leopard Man (Jacques Tourneur) **** - It's not QUITE as great as Cat People but it's pretty damn close. A leopard gets loose in a Mexican-American town and starts killing women but something is unusual about it. The film is only a little over an hour long but I'm amazed by how dense and rich the story is. It managed to flesh out a whole lot of characters something that some films twice its length sometimes fail to do. Like Cat People, director Jacques Tourneur tosses out gory special effects and just simply relies on sound effects, atmospheric cinematography and precise editing in order to illicit its scares. A short but excellent horror picture.