Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Movie No. 52 (2013): NO

No (2012)
Director: Pablo Larrain
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal
In Spanish, with English subtitles


This movie, representing Chile, is nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film in this year's Academy Awards (for movies of 2012).

The movie centers on Rene Saavedra (Gabriel Garcia Bernal), a young advertising executive, who is persuaded by the opposition leaders to produce an anti-Pinochet ad that disguises as a TV commercial. The move is to persuade Chileans to vote "No" during the referendum that will legitimize the presidency of the military dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The film, despite the bleak backdrop, has humor. There's never a lull moment in this film. It can keep one riveted on his seat while watching this. I like its cinematography - it looks like it's made to appear like an old film (so '80s); or, maybe the cold colors are a suggestion of the tension people felt during the period. Brilliant!

Date seen: February 24, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Movie No. 51 (2013): THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Cast: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd

It's about the pains of growing up. It's about fear. It's about friendship or absence of it. It's about anything you can think about being an introvert. It's hard to be original when a novel or film has these themes as template because a lot novels have been written and lot of films have been made on these topics. But this particular film. still succeeds despite that. While it may not be completely original - and with all its flaws, which are not much - the film still manages to capture my interest. Or any other person's interest. I find the movie honest, refreshing and affecting. Logan Lerman's performance is so noteworthy. He makes the character he plays come to life.

I didn't expect much from this film. But I ended up liking it very much.

Date seen: February 23, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Monday, February 25, 2013

Book No. 6 (2013): THE BOOK OF DANIEL

The Book of Daniel (a novel by E.L. Doctorow)

When Daniel Isaacson is supposed to write his PhD dissertation, he ends up writing about something else. He composes something that is akin to confession. In this composition, we learn about his intimate relationships with people, including his parents, now dead, having been executed for having conspired to steal atomic secrets from Russia; his adoptive parents; his wife; and his younger sister.

In this book, Doctorow uses a tricky style which I only managed to grasp toward the last quarter of the novel. This makes me think that if I ever get time to read it again, I will have better appreciation of the book. 

Date read: February 25, 2013

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Monday, February 18, 2013

Movie No. 50 (2013): DIAL M FOR MURDER

Dial M For Murder (1954)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Ray Milland, Grace Kelly, Robert Cummings

A British professional tennis player suspects that his rich wife is having an affair with a handsome American crime/mystery writer. He plots to murder his wife to inherit her wealth. His accomplice is a former comrade in the army whom he blackmails and persuades to kill his wife. I could have a perfect plan for a perfect murder. But something goes wrong.

The film, adapted from a stage play, is quite talky for a Hitchcock film. However, the Hitchcock signature is still all over the film and the battle of wits leading to the film's conclusion is enjoyable to watch.

Date seen: February 18, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Movie No. 49 (2013): ANGELS & DEMONS

Angels & Demons (2009)
Director: Ron Howard
Cast: Tom Hanks, Ewan McGregor, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Stellan Skasgard

I didn't feel the urgency to see this film despite everyone was gaga over the book and the film adaptation some years back. I didn't even know what it's about. It's also a good thing I didn't read the book; otherwise ,I'd be bored from start to end of the film. It made me admire the twist in the end as well as the scenes leading toward the climax. But my main problem with this film is that I didn't feel that the characters have this sense of urgency in stopping the terrorist threat. When they should be racing against time, they spend more time in diverging actions. Maybe it's a failure in script or editing. There are scenes that just don't convince me would possibly happen unnoticed: for example, that scene where the last cardinal is to be dropped in the pond in  very public place. And a lone assassin can do all those killings in a short span of time? Ridiculous.

But I still find the movie entertaining. It's production design or art direction is its main strength. I think Tom Hanks is miscast.

Date seen: February 17, 2013

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Movie No. 48 (2013): MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS

My Blueberry Nights (2007)
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Cast: Norah Jones, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn

Synopsis (from IMDB): A young woman takes a soul-searching journey across America to resolve her questions about love while encountering a series of offbeat characters along the way.

Okay. This is Wong Kar Wai's first film in English, with popular Hollywood actors and the Grammy Award-winning singer Norah Jones in the cast. It's not well received by critics. But the film is not that bad as critics would say it was. Maybe they made the review with reference to previous Wong Kar Wai's films like Chungking Express, In The Mood For Love, 2046 and Happy Together, which are all great films. In my opinion, My Blueberry Nights is still a decent film, although its screenplay is a sort of a let down compared to the films I have just mentioned. This film's photography is exquisite, reminiscent of In The Mood For Love.

Date seen: February 17, 2013

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Movie No. 47 (2013): PERSEPOLIS

Persepolis (2007)
Directors: Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi
In French and Farsi, with English subtitles

Set during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the movie is a coming-of-age tale of an outspoken yet stubborn girl.  The film's animation is flat, 2D, and has the look of the drawings in a comic book or graphic novels. It's mostly in glorious black and white. And it's not a bad thing. On the contrary, the choice of such kind if drawing is really fitting to the bleak backdrop of the story. More importantly, the movie is kind of informative as I know a little about that phase in Iranian history.

Date seen: February 17, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Movie No. 46 (2013): NEVER ON SUNDAY

Never On Sunday (1960)
Director: Jules Dassin
Cast: Melina Mercouri, Jules Dassin
In Greek and English, with English subtitles

Homer, a scholar who's writing about the fall of Greece, arrives in the Port of Piraeus and meets a prostitute  (Ilya) who has a strange outlook in life. Immediately, Homer decides that the prostitute be his perfect subject - the symbol of the ancient Greece and its fall. He wants to change her a la Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady).

Despite its theme of prostitution, the film is funny, a really enjoyable and infectious comedy. The score and original song are simply wonderful, soothing to the ears, and integral to the film. The lead actress (Melina Mercouri) gives a wonderful performance; for this she earned a Best Actress nomination from the Academy Awards in 1961 and a Best Actress award from Cannes Film Festival in 1960.

Date seen: February 17, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0



Saturday, February 16, 2013

Movie No. 45 (2013): FROM UP ON POPPY HILL

From Up On Poppy Hill (2011)
Director: Goro Miyazaki
In Japanese, with English subtitles

The year is 1963. Japan is picking up from the devastation of World War II and is doing a major face-lift in preparation for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Part of the plan is to demolish a Meiji-era club house in a seaside town in Yokohama which the high school students of Konan University use as headquarters for their different clubs and organizations. Most of the students oppose the demolition plan. As all these happen, two of these students (Umi and Shun) uncover something about their past that will challenge their friendship (or budding love affair).

Just like any other Studio Ghibli films, the animation in this film is lively, vivid, and beautiful. This journey-to-the-past type of tale is endearing. The conflict between preserving the good things of the past and embracing the changes for the future is well "metaphorized" in the question of whether to demolish or preserve the club house, which also mirrors what Umi and Shun are going through. 

Date seen: February 16, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Movie No. 44 (2013): SAY ANYTHING

Say Anything (1989)
Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast: John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Lili Taylor

Diane Court (Ione Skye) is the class valedictorian of her high school. She's just won a prestigious scholarship and is headed for England to study college. As she waits for the summer to be over, before she leaves for England, she dates Lloyd (John Cusack), who, according to her father, is an irresponsible "underachiever." Then, pressured by her father, she breaks the relationship. Lloyd will try to win Diane back. Meanwhile, Diane will learn some devastating truth about his father.

The best thing about the movie is that all characters are believable, some are even charming. The slow buildup of relationship between Diane and Lloyd is well-written. This is a great coming-of-age film. One of the convincing love stories ever seen on screen.

Date seen: February 14, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Monday, February 11, 2013

Movie No. 43 (2013): ETERNITY AND A DAY

Eternity And A Day (1998)
Director: Theo Angelopoulos
Cast: Bruno Ganz, Achileas Skevis
In Greek, with English subtitles

This is the story of an old man and a boy. The old man, a famous Greek writer, is going away; he believes he will never return. So, he busies himself finding a home in which to leave his dog. In the process, he meets an boy, a waif who crossed the Albanian-Greek border and ends up in the hands of a gang that sells kidnapped children to wealthy but childless Greek couples . While plagued with memories of his dead wife and an unfinished poetry, he rescues the boy and tasks himself to return the boy to his grandmother in Albania. 

The film, despite being some kind of elegy, is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen. The film itself is like poetry that is fluid. For a movie with this theme, more than 2 hours is quite long but I never noticed it. When in ended I was in complete awe. 

The film won Palm D'Or at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival.

Date seen: February 10, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Movie No. 42 (2013): THE LAST WAVE

The Last Wave (1977)
Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Richard Chamberlain

Richard Chamberlain is David Burton, a Sydney corporate lawyer who is tasked to defend five Aborigines in the murder of another Aborigine. The trial is complicated as the cause of death cannot be completely established as one may suspect the murder is a part of a (sort of a) ritual, which is allowed in the tribal law. David's concentration on the case is challenged as he himself is plagued by the same nightmarish dreams that he had as a boy. In the process, he's on to discover things about himself that scares him.

The film qualifies as a horror film and, as such, it is really scary. For what is more scary than expecting an impending doom with advanced party as the hail, the black rain, the frogs, and the water everywhere that invades even David's dreams? 

Date seen: February 10, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Movie No. 41 (2013): EL BOLA

El Bola (2000)
Director: Achero Manas
Cast: Juan Jose Ballesta, Pablo Galan
In Spanish, with English subtitles


The central character in this film is called El Bola (or "Pellet"), a 12-year-old boy who avoids close friendship with his classmates. Almost everyone in his school knows his father beats him but nobody, including him, wants to talk about it. Ironically, Pellet participates in a dangerous game that some of his classmates secretly and occasionally play at the train track. Then comes a new boy (Alfredo) in the class. Pellet and Alfredo, without much effort and resistance, become friends. Pellet finds refuge in Alfredo's family, which his father doesn't like.

The film, at start, seems like a typical coming-of-age film, although one might be reminded of some Truffaut's films. Watching it, I was reminded particularly of 400 Blows and Small Change. But El Bola is not a copycat of these films. While the story is not unique, the way the build up of tension is presented is almost perfect - a great script. Juan Jose Ballesta (as Pellet) was either just perfect for the role or he's a very sensitive actor at a young age. One can really feel how broken his character is.

Date seen: February 9, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0



Saturday, February 9, 2013

Movie No. 40 (2013): STRANGER THAN PARADISE

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: John Lurier, Eszter Balint

This is the kind of film that watching it feels like reading a novel where you feel that nothing much is happening and still feels good in the end. It appears simple but it is actually complex. The film is of that kind we call an independent film, whatever that means. The film appears like a comedy with it's humor so subtle that you might miss it if you're not paying much attention. I might have missed some because of sensitivities which to me are foreign. 

In the film Eva makes a 10-day stopover in her cousin's (Willie's) apartment in New York before going to Cleveland to stay with her aunt, her final destination. She's from Budapest (Hungary). There she meets Willie's friend Eddie. Then, after a year, Willie and Eddie travels to Cleveland to surprise Eva. This is all I have to say. By the look of it, there seems to be nothing special and noteworthy about the film. That's what I thought, too, until the film was over. 

Date seen: February 8, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0


Book No. 5 (2013): RANSOM

Ransom (a novel by David Malouf)


In this novel, David Malouf re-imagines part of Iliad in which Achilles slaughters Hector and desecrates his dead body and Priam (Hector's father) attempts to ransom his son's corpse. In the author's vivid and almost cinematic narrative, the characters are made more human and vulnerable.


Date read: February 8, 2013

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Friday, February 8, 2013

Movie No. 39 (2013): A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING

A Short Film About Killing (1988)
Director: Krzyzstof Kieslowski
Cast: Miroslaw Baka, Krzysztof Globisz
In Polish, with English subtitles

The opening scene is an indication of things to see in (or expect from) this film: a dead rat and a dead cat hanging by the neck. This disturbing scene (in my opinion) summarizes the film. It's a crime-and-punishment type of story, one that can be a direct attack to capital punishment. One character quotes "Since Cain, there's no punishment capable of changing the world." This quote, suggestive of the film's central argument, is genius as integral part of the script. 

Everything in this film is cold. In all the scenes, you can feel the cold weather. People are cold. The murder, though almost botched, is cold-blooded. The punishment is executed coldly. I guess that's the sense the film is trying to make.

Another thing I like about the films is the manner the build up of tension is presented. One might get bored with what seem to be unrelated scenes presented during the first half (or maybe more) of the total running time. In my case, however, with the opening scene in mind, I expected something (but not much) that would reward me for being patient. But there's no major twist. It was then that, I realized that the film is more of a character study, in addition to its being a subtle social commentary. In this aspect, it's splendid. The film is simply great!

Highly recommended. And, by the way, this is not a short film.

Date seen: February 8, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Movie No. 38 (2013): A GENERATION

A Generation (1954)
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Cast: Tadeusz Lomnicki, Tadeusz Lanczar
In Polish, with English subtitles


The movie depicts the struggles with poverty and involvement in the clandestine resistance movement of a group of youth in the Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. The central character (Stach) joins the resistance because he is attracted to the beautiful agitator of the movement (Dorota). He gets involved in anti-Nazi activities and falls in love with Dorota. But Dorota gets arrested.

The film is bleak and harsh in its treatment of cruelty. It may not be the best film about what war makes of youth but still a decent classic film to watch. The sequence of scenes that involves one character being pursued by the Nazis and ends in his being trapped, then making a swan dive to his death is a genius. But that's the only great scene I saw in this film.

Date seen: February 6, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Monday, February 4, 2013

Movie No. 37 (2013): THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Leslie Banks, Peter Lorre, Edna Best

This is the first version of the film, with an all-British cast. This is not the one with Que Sera Sera. This is the film that made Alfred Hitchcock an international household name, particularly with critics and film enthusiasts. Like most of the Hitchcock's films, The Man Who Knew Too Much is about the wrong man. In the film, a British couple, along with their daughter, spend vacation in Switzerland. There they befriend a Frenchman who later gets killed and share a secret to the couple - a plot to assassinate a diplomat. This is where the thrill ride begins in the way only Hitchcock can come up with.

This is a clever, vintage Hitchcock that is worth watching. It's not the greatest film made by Hitchcock, but it's an integral part of his exquisite filmography.

Date seen: February 4, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0


Movie No. 36 (2013): CHILDREN WHO CHASE LOST VOICES

Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
In Japanese, with English subtitles

In this film, I find another reason to prefer Japanese animation to Disney's or Pixar's - this film. This is not from Studio Ghibli, but it's as good as any film made by the company that I really like.

In the film, Asuna, a young girl, spends her time listening to some mysterious sound that the crystal radio receives and transmits. That radio is the only memento she has from her father (now dead). One day, on her way home, she's attacked by a strange-looking creature and is saved by a mysterious young boy who seems to have suddenly appeared from nowhere. The boy confides to Asuna that he's from a place called Agartha, the land of the dead, and that he only comes to the surface to find something. The next morning, Asuna learns  that a boy is found dead in the river. Asuna, in disbelief, consigns herself on a journey to Agartha to say her final 'goodbye.' And here's where the adventure begins.

The film is not perfect. There are some flaws in the script but the film but, overall, is a visual feast. The animation itself does the trick.

Date seen: February 3, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Movie No. 35 (2013): THE KID WITH A BIKE

The Kid With A Bike (2011)
Directors: Jean-Pierrer and Luc Dardenne
Cast: Thomas Doret, Jeremie Renier, Cecile De France
In French, with English subtitles

Cyril, an 11-year old boy, who stays in a home for troubled kids, is obsessed in searching for his father and his bicycle. By accident, a hairdresser finds herself determined to help the boy: she buys back the bicycle and agrees to take the boy in her ward every weekend. Together they search for the missing father.

The Kid With A Bike is a rare gem of a film despite that Cyril, the kid with a bike, is irritating to watch most of the time. But you'll empathize with the character once you understand that everything that he does, consciously or unconsciously, is a cry for help. This means the character is well written. In fact, the entirety of the film is a beautiful narrative although there's not much happening on the screen most of the time. And the film ends just perfectly well.

Date seem: February 3, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Movie No. 34 (2013): MEDITERRANEO

Mediterraneo (1991)
Director: Gabriele Salvatores
Cast: Diego Abatantuono, Claudio Bigagli, Giuseppe Cederna, Vanna Barba
In Italian, with English subtitles

It's World War II. A group of Italian soldiers are stuck in (what appears like a deserted) small island village in the Aegean Sea after their ship is sunk by the British. But the village is not really deserted. Soon, feeling abandoned, they form bond with the people of the village, unmindful of the war that's going on in Europe. 

This film may not be too insightful, but it never lacks humor that's delightful. The film won Academy Awards Best Foreign Language film in 1991.

Date seen: February 2, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Friday, February 1, 2013

Movie No. 33 (2013): EL MAR

El Mar (2000)
Director: Augusti Villalonga
Cast: Roger Casamajor, Bruno Bergonzini, Antonia Torrens
In Spanish, with English subtitles

When one boy was killed and the other boy killed himself, three other children - two boys and a girl - were there. That time was some time during the Spanish Civil War. That was the last day of their being children. Now, in the film's present, which is more or less a decade later after that incident, these three children, now adults, meet again in a sanatorium. And their souls, forever tormented and scarred, long for redemption that seems unreal.

The film is a feast to the eyes and consciousness of art house-film lovers.

Date seen: February 1, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0