Monday, October 6, 2014

Weekly Round-Up (9/28/14 - 10/4/14)

Dementia (Percival M. Intalan) *** - This is a Filipino horror film about a woman suffering from early on-set dementia goes back to her hometown along with her younger cousin, which happens to be on a rather isolated island in Batanes (the northern most province of the Philippines). There she has to face the ghosts of her past, both figuratively AND literally. It is essentially a pretty rote, standard horror film with all the familiar narrative beats. But this film benefits from the acting talent of one of the Philippines' best actresses, Nora Aunor who gives the pulpy material its weight and substance. It is worth seeing for that alone (and for the travelogue-esque on-location cinematography). 

3:10 to Yuma (James Mangold) ***1/2 - I reviewed the 1957 original film, or rather the 1957 version of the Elmore Leonard short story. Now, I'm reviewing the 2007 version. I have to say that it is indeed one of the VERY RARE times when the "updated" version is actually better than the "original" version. It does so by keeping all the original's strengths while building upon it and expounding it, giving it a fresh new take. Sure, the action scenes are more elaborate, the violence and language more explicit but it's all in service of keeping with the spirit of the story. The performances are fantastic, of course. Russell Crowe's take on Ben Wade IS kind of genius. He made him more savage yet at the same time, he managed to make him more sympathetic. Also kudos to Ben Foster as the frightening, bad ass (and probably gay) villainous sidekick. 

The Threepenny Opera (G.W. Pabst) ***1/2 - Oh, I'm gonna have "Mack the Knife" in my head now. This film version of the Brecht musical play where that song actually came from is a bit of a surprise for me. I knew it was a musical but I thought it would be darker (like Sweeney Todd dark). It's actually more of a caper about criminals in the underground of London and all their comings and goings with strong satirical elements. It's actually pretty darn funny (the scene with the reverend was hysterical). As a G.W. Pabst film, it's not really my favorite but it is, again, very well shot and acted.

Street Scene (King Vidor) ***1/2 - Someone again recommended this film to me and again, it was indeed quite wonderful. The film basically revolves around people from one apartment building in New York City. The film is mostly set in front of this building as the characters go in and out. It's based on a stage play and for the first two or so acts, it feels like it but director King Vidor really made it work cinematically and it REALLY opens up in the dark third act which I won't reveal here. It's Pre-Code so it's a bit racy and mature, tackling themes that would be still relevant to this day. It's brought to life by a strong ensemble cast headed by Sylvia Sidney. Definitely a film to check out.

The Equalizer (Antoine Fuqua) **1/2 - I remember watching the TV series as a small kid in the '80s (though I don't remember any particular episode). This film BARELY resembles it. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Though I'm guessing super-fans of the TV show are bound to be disappointed. The basic concept is the same: Former super secret agent does vigilante justice for people. That's when the similarities end. It seems as though Denzel saw how much Liam Neeson was making with all those movies where he kicks the shit out of bad guys and wanted one for himself. On that level, it is quite enjoyable but in the end it's too long and gets a bit ridiculous. Still, it's well-crafted (Fuqua channeling Tony Scott here) and entertaining. 

Safe in Hell (William A. Wellman) ***1/2 - Yet another wonderful discovery from the 1930's. This is yet another Pre-Code movie and I must say I've been noticing that Pre-Code films have that VERY unique type of raciness and edginess. It's not as graphic as the grown-up films of today but they really, really push it. This film is one of those films that pushes it! When a woman working as a prostitute accidentally kills a john and burns down an apartment building, her lover helps her escape to a small island country with no extradition law where certain twists and turns happen which leads to a very heartbreaking ending. It is another wonderful film which should be seen more! 

Monkey Business (Norman Z. McLeod) *** - You know, this is one of those films where I can honestly say I don't remember whether or not I've seen it. Honest! So, what the hell, I watch it again since I'm gonna be a completist when it comes to the Marx Brothers. This is not their best work (I miss Margaret Dumont!) but there's still enough good laughs (Harpo is the standout in this one) for me to recommend it. This time the brothers bring their hijinks on a cruise ship. I think the plot got in the way of this one a bit.

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