Big Hero 6 (Don Hall/Chris Williams) **** - *insert smart-ass joke about not remembering seeing Big Hero 1-5* Okay, that's out of the way. This is a terrific film. Disney Animation is on a roll. A teenage robotics genius mourning the accidental death of his older brother discovers someone stole his microbot invention to be used for less-then-honorable reasons and so he "upgrades" his brother's health care robot Baymax. The movie has everything: It is actually very funny, lots of clever, great jokes in it. It's visually eye-popping, lovingly designed. It's got some great action sequences. It also has a big heart and dramatic heft to create a terrific piece of pop cinema. I have to say that this is the third film this year so far that tackled the subject of grief and loss through genre and did it very well. (The other two are The Babadook and John Wick. Someone should write an essay on that or something).
Chushingura (Hiroshi Inagaki) *** - This is one of film versions of the famous story of the 47 ronin, a group of samurais who take vengeance against the lord who caused the death of their master. It is 3 and a half hours long, only slightly shorter than the 4-hour Kenji Mizoguchi version. It's been a while (IT'S BEEN A WHILE!) since I've seen that version so I can't really compare. This particular version has a great first hour and a great last half-hour (the final battle scene does not disappoint). It's the two hours in between that is sadly a mixed bag. For every good moment, there's a dull, repetitive and meandering moment that could really have used a trim. But it's beautifully designed, shot, directed and acted and it's worth sitting through everything for the great parts.
Relaks, It's Just Pag-Ibig (Antoinette Jadaone/Irma Navarro) *** - The title means, "Relax, It's Just Love" in full English. This is a Filipino teen romantic comedy about a quirky with a capital Q teenage girl (the Filipino equivalent of the dream pixie girl from American indie movies, complete with purple hair) who drags a teenage boy from an upper-class private school to go to a certain beach so they can witness true love under a blue moon. Normally, I run as far away as I can from most romantic comedies. Filipino romantic comedies are particularly insufferable. The fact that I didn't roll my eyes or wanted to kill myself in this is testament to the strength of this film. Co-written and co-directed by Antoinette Jadaone whose film Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay is one film I absolutely loved infuses this film with enough intelligence, bite, depth and great filmmaking to keep me interested. It's still a romantic-comedy through and through but it is one of the better ones.
Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy) ***1/2 - A sociopathic petty thief decides to become a "nightcrawler", or videographers who go around taking crime/accident footage for local morning news outlets. This sort of feels like a somewhat updated version of Network for our time where people's voyeuristic tendencies and thirst for sensationalism equals a network's ruthless chase for ratings but there's so much more there. It's also a biting social commentary for the contemporary economic conditions combined with the cold logic of a capitalistic society to be financially successful no matter what the cost. All this is wrapped in a supremely entertaining, darkly comedic crime thriller. It pulls it off quite brilliantly. It doesn't hit you over the head with the message but it's there. It's anchored by Jake Gyllenhaal's fantastic performance. His normally kind, puppy-dog eyes is transformed here into a menacing, calculating creep. This is a terrific film.
Yoyo (Pierre Etaix) **** - I'm a huge cinephile but even I didn't hear of the name Pierre Etaix until relatively recently when his films have finally been released on DVD/Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection after years of languishing in the vaults due to some legal problems. Based on this film alone, I will have to say thank God his films are now more accessible because I absolutely loved this film. This film is about Yoyo, a clown who grew up in the circus and his quest to regain his father's fortune. This film is Buster Keaton meets Jacques Tati with plenty of clever, funny gags, jokes and sequences. It even shifts styles and sometimes tone but it all somehow worked. I think this movie will be watched repeatedly by me. Check this film out. This should not remain obscure.