Monday, December 31, 2012

Film Review: Flight

Flight (Robert Zemeckis, 2012)

Denzel Washington is a seasoned pilot. He is alcoholic. In his latest flight that has gone awry, he miraculously crash lands the plane in an unconventional way, saving 96 of the 102 people on board including himself. He's hailed as a hero, but investigation still needs to be done. There are more questions than then there are answers as to what really happened during the incident. This is what the film is all about.

The two best things about the film are the execution of the incident and Denzel Washington's sustained acting.  There's nothing much noteworthy about the story after the crash landing, having it reduced to a mystery, just like any other film. I don't mean it's bad. Actually, I like the film as a whole.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Film Review: The Iron Lady and Magic Mike

The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011)

That it's only now that I finish watching The Iron Lady means one thing: the movie does not sustain my interest to finish seeing it despite Meryl Streep's wonderful performance as Margaret Thatcher. I agree that Meryl Streep got the Best Actress plum at the Academy Awards last year but the film is actually overshadowed by Meryl Streep. That's all I can say about it. Oh, by the way - wonderful makeup!

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, 2012)

Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh gives depth to an otherwise overused and shallow plot involving male strippers in a movie. It's fun to watch and you'll care about the characters. Matthew McConaughey did a praise-worthy acting as an ageing male stripper who runs the strip club.

Rating: 3.0/4.0


Film Review: X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class (Matthew Vaughn, 2011)

I like all X-Men films. This film (X-Men: First Class) is a welcome addition. In fact, it is an excellent prequel to what have been filmed and shown, so far. 

The film shows the important roles of some of the early x-men in the Cold War between Russia and US during the '50s.  In the process, alliances among these x-men form; some choose to be heroes, some villains. 

James McAvoy is passable as young Professor X. Michael Fassbender is excellent as Magneto. Jennifer Lawrence is here as Mystique.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Film Review: Rio

Rio (Carlos Saldanha, 2011)

Rio is an animated film from the makers of the Ice Age films. There aren't any breakthroughs in technical aspects and storytelling in this film but, just the like any other animated films I saw, this film is a joy to watch. The images are easy to the eye and the playfulness of the characters are contagious. 

This is the plot. Linda believes that her pet bird Blu, a blue macaw that never learned how to fly, is the last of its kind. Having learned that there's another macaw of her pet's kind (called Jewel) in Rio De Janeiro, she travels from Minnesota to Rio De Janeira, with her blue macaw in tow. But, in Rio, Blu and Jewel get kidnapped by bird smugglers. The rest of the movie is about the rescue of the Blu and Jewel.

Angry Birds Rio!!!

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Film Review: Public Enemies

Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009)

The film follows Melvin Purvis' pursuit of notorious criminals (John Dillinger, Homer Van Meter, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd) during the Great Depression in America. The good thing about the movie is that it doesn't glorify crime and the criminals committing it. It's told as, I suppose, how it happened during those times, using the language of cinema. I like the photography for it captured the right moods. Art direction is superb, and the cast delivered believable performances (special mention to Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Christian Bale asPurvis).

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Film Review: Elite Squad

Elite Squad a.k.a. Tropa de Elite (Jose Padilha, 2007)
In Portuguese, with English subtitles
Winner, Golden Bear, Berlin Film Festival 2008

Why does this remind me of City of God? Maybe because the two films share the same writer and both deal  (partly) with drug trafficking in the notorious favelas of Rio De Janeiro. And both are excellent films. Elite Squad, however, tells the story of drug trafficking and corruption in the police force on the point of view of some members of the so-called Elite Squad (State Police Special Operations Battalion). At the same time, the film also presents the struggles of the outgoing captain of the Elite Squad as he looks very carefully for his replacement and, at the same time, dealing with the problems in the favelas.

This film is brilliant in all aspects.

Rating: 4.0/4.0


Film Review: Post Mortem and Tony Manero

I got the interest to see these films because of the inclusion of the Chilean film called No in this year's short list of 9 films from which the 5 nominees for Best Foreign Language Film will be picked. Pablo Larrain directed No; he also directed Post Mortem (2010) and Tony Manero (2008). Tony Manero made a lot of buzz in 2008.
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Post Mortem (Pablo Larrain, 2010)
In Spanish, with English subtitles

Pallid-looking (or corpse-like) Mario, the lead character in this film, works in a morgue; he transcribes the coroner's report. Atrocities are at every corner but he seems not to care. In fact, most of the people shown as characters in this film are indifferent of what's happening. They all seem to be sleepwalking. The film looks like a reconstruction of somebody else's nightmare. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0


Tony Manero (Pable Larrain, 2008)
In Spanish, with English subtitles

Raul Paredes, the lead character in this film, who calls himself Tony Manero, is a pervert who is morbidly obsessed with John Travolta's character in Saturday Night Fever. Actually, he qualifies as a serial killer, and whatever it is that drives him to kill is not quite clear. Maybe, he's just a pure sociopath. It is through his eyes that the atrocities and other horrors of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile are exposed in the film. Like Post Mortem, this film has disturbing images.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012)

Was there really a need to do another interpretation of the story of The Amazing Spider-Man? I didn't read the comics, so I can't tell which film adaptation was more loyal to the graphic novel. This latest version of The Amazing Spider-Man has a new actor, Andrew Garfield. I saw the adaptations with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I can't complain about Andrew Garfield being Peter Parker/Spider-Man because when I saw this film, it's Peter Parker that I saw on screen, not Andrew Garfield. That means a lot. This latest adaptation focused on Peter Parker's finding a clue to help him understand the death/disappearance of his parents. In the process he got bitten. And what happened next everyone knows. Fans of Spider-Man may not have liked this film much but I like it that the film is more about Peter Parker than Spider-Man.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Film Review: Shake, Rattle & Roll 14 etc.

In this month (December 2012) I saw four local films. I already wrote about Himala, which I saw during the the first week. It was also during the same week that I saw a Claudine Barretto/Rico Yan starrer called Got 2 Believe on cable TV. Then came Christmas break: I saw Shake, Rattle & Roll 14 (The Invasion), an entry to this year's MMFF, in a commercial theater, and a Reyna Films classic called Kung Mawawala Ka Pa, starring Christopher De Leon and Dawn Zulueta.

Shake, Rattle & Roll 14 (The Invasion) (Chito Rono, 2012)
For the first time in so many years, all Shake, Rattle & Roll episodes make sense. The episodes in the past SRR's were either cheap entertainment or simply dumb, trying very hard, with ridiculous results, to scare. Of course, there were (very) few exceptions, like the Punerarya episode two years ago. This year, all three episodes were directed by Chito Rono, a master in the genre. And he delivered. The scripts, I suppose, were good, in the first place. Good scripts make good films. Ricky Lee wrote the Pamana episode, Rody Vera the Lost Command episode, and Roy Iglesias the Unwanted episode. Janice De Belen, Herbert Bautista and Arlene Muhlach, who appeared in different episodes of the very first Shake, Rattle & Roll shown in 1984, starred in the Pamana episode. Good thing about the episode - all three acted well, with special mention to Janice De Belen. The second episope reminded me of Apocalypse Now and of soldiers-turned-cannibals, which made the news in the '80s. This, too, was an ensemble acting. Dennis Trillo did well. The third episode is memorable in that it's special effects are impressive.

Rating: Pamana - 3.0/4.0; Lost Command - 3.0/4.0; Unwanted - 2.5/4.0.

Kung Mawawala Ka Pa (Jose Avellana, 1994)
I only watched this because opening credits showed Reynal Films produced it and it showcased the acting prowess of Christopher De Leon and Dawn Zulueta. I don't want to go into details of what's it about. It's forgettable. The storyline is a rehash of a lot of films you'd seen in the past 30 years. I actually managed to read a book while watching it and still got the whole idea of the film. Even the acting of Christopher De Leon was a shame. Too amateurish.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Got 2 Believe (2002)
I never knew who directed the film. I'm not interested. The movie was a hit in theaters. It starred Rico Yan and Claudine Barretto. I don't want to write what it's about. It's not bad. Actually, I was entertained. Rico Yan and Claudine Barretto looked good together on screen.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Knut Hamsun: SHALLOW SOIL

I think this is the final book that I read this year (2012); 39th book, 1 book short of my goal. Not bad. And this is the fourth book by the Norwegian Nobel Prize laureate that I actually finished reading - I did all these readings in 2012. Reading Knut Hamsun has always been satisfying.

This book centers on the struggles of a group of writers during the turn of 20th century in Norway. It looks simple but the details of the narrative are really worth-reading.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Knut Hamsun: PAN

This novel chronicles the encounters of Lt. Thomas Glahn, a hunter and former military man, with Edwarda and other minor characters during his self-exile in a forest. Most of the narrative is centered on his love affair with Edwarda, who he loses in the end. 

The main part of the narrative is told on the point of view of Glahn while the epilogue, that part in which he turns his back from his usual "almost-hermit" world, is told on on the point of view of another person, the one who killed him.

Reading it, I could sense a lot of symbolism, some I discerned, partly and wholly, some I didn't. But my overall reading experience was rewarding.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Atiq Rahimi: THE PATIENCE STONE

According to a Persian folklore, there's a magical black stone that takes all the plight of those who talk to it in confidence. It's called the patience stone.

In this novel, a woman's patience stone is a dead-bread man, lying with a bullet in his neck. Here a woman speaks without boundaries all her complaints, disappointments, pain, resentment, desire, secrets, fear etc. These are things that an Afghan woman can't talk about or shouldn't talk about. In fact, an Afghan woman can't talk or should not talk at all. The novel is brave. It breaks taboos.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Saturday, December 22, 2012

V.S. Naipaul: THE MYSTIC MASSEUR

This is the first novel of V.S. Naipaul, a Nobel Prize - winning author for Trinidad and Tobago. In this novel, the author writes about the life's journey of Ganesh which starts out as funny and ends up as touching and full of hope. Ganesh starts as a school primary-school teacher; when he fails, he becomes a masseur, then a mystic, then a writer, and so on.

Naipaul, when he writes, seems like he's touring the reader to different realms - his native land, his characters' minds, and his creative imagination. It's not difficult to read his books.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Film Review: The Beat That My Heart Skipped

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Jacques Audiard, 2005)
In French, with English subtitles

In this film is one of the most intense performances (by a lead actor) I've seen on screen. The film shows a man in a crossroad. He seems to be on the same path as his father's, one that leads him to the Paris underworld of property dealings. His mother was a concert pianist, and his chance encounter with his mother's associate, puts him in the crossroad. 

The gangster subplot of the film reminds me of Martin Scorsese. The film has a Scorsese feel/touch. And it's really good.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: Homicide

Homicide (David Mamer, 1991)

David Mamet has never failed to amuse me (yet). The central character in this film is a good cop, working in the homicide section. It's no brainer that the film should be about homicide, or so I thought. In a David Mamet film, there's always a clever twist. In this film, homicide is just a scratch on the surface. There's more to this film that what it seems. For example: What makes a good cop who wants all of his assignments done succumb to betrayal? It's no longer about homicide.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: ROADSIDE PICNIC

Roadside Picnic, the book that inspired Andrei Tarkovsky's visually stunning film, Stalker, is the story of the so-called stalkers. These stalkers illegally enter the Zone to collect mysterious artifacts (believed to have been) left behind by visiting aliens. The black market pays a good price for such artifacts. But, Red Schuhart, a stalker, in one of his 'trips' to Zone, accompanied by another stalker, experiences the unexpected. Something goes wrong.

I saw the film adaptation (Stalker) two weeks ago and I liked it, if only for the visually stunning images. Having seen that film made me interested to read the book it was based from. This book. The film is not faithful to the book; it only gets the idea of the book. But it still manages to be an excellent work of art. I like the book, too, with all the important details in the back stories of the characters that matter.

As far as I can recall, this is my first attempt to read science fiction. I can't say I'll be a fan. But, it was worth my time. I enjoyed reading Roadside Picnic.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

William Faulkner: SANCTUARY

The story's theme is quite controversial: kidnapping and rape. The depiction of rape is quite shocking. Faulkner writes it in a narrative that looks simplistic but the evil it describes has reverberating effect. But more shocking is the false testimony of the victim. Just like that.

Did I enjoy reading it? Yes, but not as much as I enjoyed the more difficult As I Lay Dying.

Rating: 3.0/5.0


Monday, December 10, 2012

Film Review: Winter Light

Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1962)
In Swedish, with English subtitles

A widowed pastor preaches before a small congregation. His preaching is mechanical; his faith in crisis. The theme of this small parable may seem controversial but for me it's one of those what-if situations that make a good story in book or in film. The film has the masterful touch of Ingmar Bergman; it leaves question that may stir one's consciousness. 

The pastor's suffering from cold, his inability to console the fisherman who suffers from anxiety, and the substitute school teacher's offering of her love as a substitute to the pastor's loss of faith are metaphors only genius minds can create. 

This is the second film in Bergman's controversial Silence of God Trilogy

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: Himala

Himala (Ishmael Bernal, 1982)
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

I saw this film three times in the past: twice on TV, once on DVD. All these times the film quality was bad. The only saving grace was the greatness of the film itself. When it was announced that the remastered version of the film would be shown again on big screen, I made it a point to see it hoping for a different experience. And, indeed, watching it on big screen made me rediscover a great Filipino classic film and discover some salient points that, in my opinion, had contributed to the film's even greatness.

The film is the story of a simple barrio lass (Elsa) who claims she has seen (and has talked to) Virgin Mary. Then she starts to heal people of their sickness; and people from nearby towns and pilgrims from all over the country flock to the once ghost-town-like barrio upon hearing of the miracle. Opportunists suddenly become enterprising. Politicians ride on the popularity of Elsa and her faith-healing miracles. 

Screenplay (by Ricky Lee), direction (by Ishmael Bernal), performances and austere camera work all contribute to the film's greatness. The screenplay is a subtle commentary on blind faith. The complex characterization of attention-seeking Elsa, which Nora Aunor effectively and almost effortlessly conveyed before the camera, is superb. There are scenes that, if you just pay close attention to, will make you really appreciate Nora Aunor's genius as an actor. These are scenes in which she doesn't even utter a word. You should read on her face Elsa's transformation from one who enjoys the attention accorded to her by the multitude, to the disgraced heroine, and to the doubting and afraid fake healer in the end. Her confession before her followers in the desert is one that has already gone down in the history of Filipino films. The actors were all great. Most noteworthy are the performances of Spanky Manikan (as the skeptic documentary film director who wants to make a story about Elsa and her miracle), Gigi Duenas (as Elsa's childhood friend who ends up as prostitute), and Ama Quiambao (as one of Elsa's die hard follower).

In my opinion, Himala is (one of the) greatest Filipino films ever made, and, probably Ishmael Bernal's best.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Carlos Ruiz Zafon: THE ANGEL'S GAME

David Martin, a struggling writer, narrates his story. He writes pulp fiction using pseudonym;  it has a good following. But when he tries to publish a serious novel using his real name, it flops. Critics call his work thrash. But the novel he has ghostwritten for a friend, published at the same time as the his novel, is lauded as a masterpiece. And this friend he ghostwrites for steals his true love. Then a mysterious benefactor disguising as a publisher contracts him to write a novel. A lot of strange happenings follow. The book looks like an interesting version of Dickens' Great Expectations, which actually makes it more intriguing for me.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon has control in his prose. He writes to sustain mystery until the end. His prose, in translation though, is crisp, but with occasional artful playing with words.

Rating: 4.5/5.0

Friday, December 7, 2012

Film Review: Pieta

PIETA (Kim Ki-Duk, 2012)
In Korean, with English subtitles

Synopsis from (IMDB): A loan shark is forced to reconsider his violent lifestyle after the arrival of a mysterious woman claiming to be his long-lost mother.

The writing of this film is almost impeccable. I like the build-up of events (and character) that leads to the conclusion despite some mystery that I think the writer leaves out for the audience to figure out. Watching it, I had to remind myself that the film was directed by Kim Ki-Duk. I had a chance to see some of his films before. Watching his films is not easy, but not that the films are incomprehensible. Some scenes are easy to watch.

The lead actress delivered a brilliant performance that will be remembered. The film won the top prize in this year's Venice Film Festival and is the South Korea's entry to the Best Foreign Language Film category of this year's Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0


Monday, December 3, 2012

Film Review: The Cabin In The Woods

The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012)

Sometimes I feel a sudden urge to see a horror film just to be entertained. I don't care if the film is dumb I chose to see The Cabin in the Woods because I heard people talk about it. I also read good reviews about it. Its Rotten Tomato rating is 91%. 

What I like about the film is that the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film is something I never expected. I thought it the film is just like the usual film of this genre with the reality-TV thing infused into it. I enjoyed the film despite a lot of gory sequences.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Film Review: Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945)

Laura and Alec are both married with children. Their chance and brief encounter at the train station immediately strikes a spark which leads to weekly rendezvous and an affair. 

Usually, one will pass judgement to the characters that allowed themselves to be entangled in such an affair. Do they ever feel guilt? What Laura and Alec feel for each other is intense and they know they can't be happy in the present situation. Their actions, while many will not agree, are just what they seem. And these are conveyed effectively by the actors (Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard). 

What make this film notable, in addition to controlled but great performances, are the characterization and the the black and white cinematography that adds mystery to the 'doomed' love affair. 

In the middle of the film I was actually got annoyed with the (in my opinion) excessive voice overs until I got to see later scenes that made me understood the motivation. This may not be as grand as other David Lean's films (e.g., Lawrence of Arabia, A Passage to India, Doctor Zhivago, Bridge on the River Kwai); however, this is an important title in the great director's filmography.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Film Review: Carnage

Carnage (Roman Polanski, 2011)

The film is an adaptation of Yasmina Reza's award-winning play "God of Carnage." The story is about the meeting of the parents of two boys: one hurt the other in a brawl. The meeting is a mutual decision of both parties to discuss things civilly. But that's not what happens. The meeting ends up in one of the most hilarious comedies I've seen on screen. The so-called "carnage" is fun! I can't say about the play, I haven't seen it yet. One good thing about the film is the  way the writing has planted several inanimate objects in the meeting place that'll be used to supplant the characters of the four parents - the cellphone, the tulips, the handbag, the art books, etc.

The film, in my opinion, looks like it was made to look like a play. But that has been eclipsed by the wonderful performances of Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Film Review: 13 Assassins

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2009)
In Japanese, with English subtitles

Why does this film remind me of Seven Samurai? Anyone who saw the Akira Kurosawa classic will agree with me. But don't get me wrong, this film is not a copycat. This film may not be as great as Seven Samurai, however, it has its own flashes of genius. It is spectacular and truly epic.
In the film, thirteen samurais (mostly unemployed or masterless) are gathered to plot the assassination of the abusive younger brother of the shogun. The result is the bloodiest and dirtiest confrotation (i've seen on film) between the assassins and the soldiers that protect the younger brother of the shogun.
I never expected this film to be this good. I like it very much.
Rating: 4.0/4.0