Sunday, March 31, 2013

Movie No. 72: LE GRANDE ILLUSION

Le Grande Illusion (1937)
Director: Jean Renoir
Cast: Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay
In French and German, with English subtitles


I saw this film more than a decade ago in one of the annual editions of Cine Europa at EDSA Shangrila Mall. I can't remember if I walked out or finish the film despite some technical glitches. The projectionist couldn't adjust the aspect ratio of the film so that it would fit the screen well. In one iteration, the subtitles would be out of frame. In another, the audience could read the subtitles but the characters on the scenes were headless. There were also instances where the sound dialogues were either inaudible or out of sync.

It looks like the first time seeing it in this recent viewing. Except for Jean Gabin's face, all the other actors and characters and scenes look new to me. I can't remember any of the scenes.

The central characters in the film are two French soldiers, both officers, are captured by the German forces and imprisoned in a camp. This is a kind of war film that treats the characters - the captured and the captures - as humans. So, the film succeeds in its exposition of the relationships among the prisoners (despite their ranks) and their unanimous plan and collective effort to escape. But just before they can even use the 'tunnel' that they have been digging for more than months already, they will be transferred to a new camp with an impenetrable fortress.

I can't say that the film is anti-war. In some aspect maybe it is. But is more concerned with the drama involving the characters than with the war.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: March 30, 2013



Movie No. 71 (2013): EQUINOX FLOWER

Equinox Flower (a.k.a. Higanbana) (1958)
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Ineko Arima, Nobuo Nakamura
In Japanese, with English subtitles


The story is simple.And since the story is simple, it's the storytelling and its details that are important. In this film, girls, going against tradition or cultural dictations, choose the men they want to marry. Parents, particularly fathers, oppose. This clash is the main subject of this light drama from one of the best Japanese masters of cinema, Yasujiro Ozu.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 30, 2013

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Movie No. 70 (2013): FUNNY GIRL

Funny Girl (1968)
Director: William Wyler
Cast: Barbra Streisand, Omar Sharif

Barbra Streisand is Fanny Brice, a comedienne, who, in the film, is shown to rise from Jewish slums of New York to her success as the star of Ziegfeld Follies while dealing with her romance/marriage with a gambler.

While Barbra Streisand seems to be perfect for the role that gave her her only Academy Award for Best Actress, the film falls short because of sudden shift to some sort of melodrama in the part where her marriage is being tackled. It dilutes the great musical numbers (People, Don't Rain On My Parade)  in the first part of the show. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: March 30, 2013

Movie No. 69 (2013): JAKOB THE LIAR

Jakob The Liar (1975)
Director: Frank Beyer
Cast: Vlastimil Brodsky, Erwin Geschonneck, Armin Mueller-Stahl
In German, with English subtitles

The year is 1944. In a Nazi-controlled Jewish Ghetto in an unnamed place in Eastern Europe, Jakob Heym weaves a lie to give hope to his suffering neighbors and friends. He lies about the coming of the Russians, their only hope. He lies about having a radio where he gets news. This causes a stir among the Jews in the Ghetto and results in tragic consequences. 

While some people who saw the film labeled it as drama-comedy, I didn't see the comedy part of it. The scenes that are supposedly comic are hard to watch. I can't even call it black comedy. For me it is a bleak drama, period. And I'm not saying it's not good. I've seen a lot of films about (or related) to Holocaust. The kind of morality play it brandishes makes the film almost unique. 

The film was nominated in the 1977 Academy Awards as Best Foreign Language Film (for films exhibited in 1976).

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 30, 2013



Thursday, March 28, 2013

Movie No. 68 (2013): KATYN

Das Massaker von Katyn (a.k.a. Katyn) (2007)
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Cast: Andrzej Chyra, Maja Ostaszewska
In Polish and Russian, with English subtitles


This film was nominated for Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film in 2008 (for films shown in 2007). The film used as template the conventional narrative and documentary styles of film making. This worked well since the film was been based on a real event - the massacre of more than 22,000 Polish officers and professionals by the Russian Red Army and the subsequent organized cover-up. 

The film's cinematic merits are based mostly on having it told mostly on the point of view of the bereaved families (without melodrama and being too sentimental), of those who got killed in the massacre (based on their journals and unsent letters), and of the pawns of the conspiracy to blame the massacre on the Nazis instead of the Russia's Red Army. I have to mention also the excellent cinematography (that complemented and really captured the tension and fear in the air, the cold-blooded massacre being performed) and the costume design (that can really transport the audience to that period) to have contributed to the film's greatness.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: March 28, 2013




Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Movie No. 67 (2013): THE HEALING

The Healing (2012)
Director: Chito S. Rono
Cast: Vilma Santos, Janice De Belen, Kim Chiu, Martin Del Rosario, Daria Ramirez, Joel Torre
In Tagalog (Filipino)

The film is okay. As a horror movie it delivers, although not in the way Rono's past horror flicks Feng Shui and Sukob did. 

Vilma Santos is Seth. Early in the film she is shown accompanying her father to a faith healer. Her father miraculously recovers from his post-stroke ailment. Then Seth's friends and neighbors, who have different ailments and having witnessed the recovery of her father, convince her to bring them to the same faith healer. Seth's son tags along, dragging his stepsister who has a chronic kidney condition that slowly poisons her blood. Everyone is healed. But in the coming days, they will meet a violent death, one by one. It feels like Final Destination or Feng Shui. The thrill of watching The Healing is in the waiting and seeing how one character will die because we all know already that they will die one after the other. And there's the requisite race against time because there's a way to stop all these violent deaths. Seth, of course, is the key.

The movie is entertaining (i.e., watchable) and with a decent script. But I notice some weak points of the movie: One: There seems to be color coding in some scenes which, in some cases, is distracting. Two:  I notice that the Seth character almost disappears because of Vilma Santos being a big name. You see her acting very well but still Seth disappears in some scenes and you see Vilma Santos instead. The rest of the cast are generally okay, too. Three: The movie looks like rehash of Feng Shui.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: March 27, 2013

Monday, March 25, 2013

Movie No. 66 (2013): MEA MAXIMA CULPA (Silence in the House of God)

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (2012)
Director: Alex Gibney
Documentary

In this documentary feature, four deaf men accuse a priest of molesting them and almost two hundred other boys when they were students of St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin. These men, now in their 40s or 50s, recount the details of the sexual abuse committed by Father Lawrence Murphy against them. The film also presents the public protests against pedophiles in the clergy and the silence of the Catholic church on the matter. The cover-up is shown to wind its way from the Milwaukee, to the Ireland's churches, and all the way to Vatican. 

The film is brave and well-researched. This has a similar subject matter as the equally excellent documentary Deliver Us From Evil. It's just that in the case presented in this feature, the abused were deaf and all boys. Sometimes, the film is tough to watch because it makes you angry and question the authority these priests imposed on themselves. Why can't they see raping or molesting a child as a crime? Is it really enough that the offender repents and then be re-installed to his post? I also don't like the idea that priests see themselves as more superior (to the extent of being supernatural) human being and that they can decide who to excommunicate or receive the Sacrament. It's preposterous. They can commit crime and get away with it just because the Vatican doesn't want scandal. And that vow of silence is an easy scapegoat to cover-up crimes committed by the clergy, such as pedophilia.

And then the Pope resigned. I'm beginning to understand.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: March 25, 2013


Movie No. 65 (2013): DELIVER US FROM EVIL

Deliver Us From Evil (2006)
Director: Amy Berg

Synopsis (from www.rottentomatoes.com): Deliver Us From Evil is a superb documentary and a searing look at an institution protecting its leaders at the expense of its followers. A profoundly disturbing chronicle of a wolf in sheep's clothing, the film builds a clear-eyed case against pedophile priest Oliver O'Grady, and the Catholic bureaucracy that protected him. The recollections of Grady's victims are nothing short of shocking and heartbreaking.

It's quite ridiculous that the Bishop couldn't recall of a child molestation complaint against his clergy during the time of his headship in a congregation. He lied, and it showed on his face. This cover-up is really infuriating. It seems like in the Catholic religion, the priests are more important than the followers, molested innocent children included. Oh, well...

The movie, as a documentary, is exceptional. People of any faith should see it and learn from it.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: March 25, 2013


Movie No. 64 (2013): CONFESSIONS

Confessions (a.k.a. Kokuhaku) (2010)
Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Cast: Takako Matsu, Yoshino Kimura, Masaki Okada
In Japanese, with English subtitles

The film's story is simple: a grieving mother exacts revenge against the murderers of her daughter. And just like many great movies that can be summarized in one sentence, this film focuses on the storytelling technique. The result is a sort of psychological thriller with twists and turns that will keep the attention of the audience. Although it is really a kind of twisted movie that some may find off, I find this film to have succeeded as a film because it triumphs in almost every aspect - writing, cinematography, editing, and acting. I also have to note that this film comments on the juvenile law that people under the age of 14 (that's the case in Japan) use as the most dangerous weapon to commit crime and get away with it.

This film is about revenge and its psychological effects on the avenger and on who are those avenged against.  Revenge is still best served cold.

The film was submitted by Japan to compete in the 83rd Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film in 2010. It made the January 2011 short list along with eight other films, but failed to make the final cut. I suspect that, while the movie was really worth a nomination, some graphic scenes of violence could have turned off the conservative committee that selected the final nominations.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: March 25, 2013

Movie No. 63 (2013): COUP DE GRACE

Coup De Grace (1976)
Director: Volker Schlondorff
Cast: Margarether von Trotta, Matthias Habich
In German, with English subtitles


The backdrop of the film is the Russian Civil War, which I have absolutely little knowledge about. But it doesn't matter because, like in the other films of this kind that I saw, the characters are more important. Central in the story is the unrequited love of a countess to a Prussian officer, her brother's comrade. This will result in an unexpected tragic (or, I should say, shocking) ending.

It is the political and sexual undertones of the film that make the film interesting. The copy that I saw had some scenes which were grainy. This had affected my viewing experience. But the movie is worth seeing.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 25, 2013


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Movie No. 62 (2013): ASHES AND DIAMONDS

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Cast: Zbigniew Cybulski, Waclaw Zastrzezynski
In Polish, with English subtitles


The central character in this film is Maciek, a young member of the Polish home resistance against the communists. At the start of the film, he is shown lying on the grass as if in a picnic. He's with a friend, who turns out to be a comrade in the resistance. In the backdrop is an old chapel, locked. We will learn later that they're to ambush a newly-installed officer of the communist rule in the region. They will kill the wrong man (or men).

At this point I'd like to say I just saw I great film. It' not only a great film of this genre or kind but a great film in general. The premise is simple but it doesn't matter. I'm more interested in the character or characters in this film that I care about. There are many great scenes that you may miss if you're not paying attention. I find such scenes so poetic. Some that I can remember are the opening and closing scenes, the lighting of the vodka in several glasses at the bar and the 'confession' in a ruined church with the inverted crucifix in the background. The metaphors of the the old chapel, white horse, violets, and the sunglasses that Maciek wears in most of the scenes are to note, too.

Date seen: March 24, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Movie No. 61 (2013): SONNY BOY

Sonny Boy (2011)
Director: Maria Peters
Cast: Ricky Coole, Sergio Hasselbaink
In Dutch, with English subtitles

While the film appears like a modest epic, it is basically a re-telling of a true-to-life interracial romance between a Dutch woman (Rika) and a younger man (Waldemar) from Surinam which spanned decades and with the events of 1920s until the end of World War II as the backdrop. Rika is separated from her husband; she lives with her four children in a rented apartment and sublets one of the rooms to Waldemar. This is where the romance begins.

The movie, while presented in a traditional way, hitting the right nerves of the viewers to elicit the right emotions, never strays from the characters. The events in the backdrop (racial discrimination, Nazi occupation, war) may be too big to be ignored, but we tend to care more about the characters than about the threats (of such events). The movie succeeds in this aspect if this is really what the director wants the audience to see. The cinematography is just right for the kind of the tone the movie seems to convey.

The film was Netherland's official submission to Academy Awards in 2011 to compete in the Best Foreign-Language Film category.

Date seen: March 18, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Movie No. 60 (2013): PURPLE NOON

Purple Noon (a.k.a Plein Soleil) (1960)
Director: Rene Clement
Cast: Alain Delon
In French, with English subtitles

The film is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. In the film, Tom Ripley is shown learning that he can get away with anything, including murder. His charms, good looks, and being literate are his camouflage to his sinister schemes as he persuades his friend, a playboy who has been bumming around and splurging in Italy, to return to San Francisco. Tom's getting $5,000 from the Philippe's parents if he succeeds to bring Philippe back is San Francisco. But, unexpected things happen (or maybe  such things are part of the plan), which lead to a series of complications. Such complications will be the test to Tom's learning of the art of getting away with anything.

In 1999, I (also) saw another adaptation of the novel - Anthony Minghella's. The film featured then relatively unknown cast that included Matt Damon (as Tom Ripley), Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Balnchett and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I liked the movie in the same level as I like Purple Noon now. Alain Delon is a better Tom Ripley, although Matt Damon's Tom Ripley is noteworthy, because, quite obviously, the young Alain Delon in Purple Noon really looks charming and effortlessly convincing in doing his unassuming charades. Matt Damon's Tom Ripley is tasked to do so more things to be convincing as a poser. The suggestion of homoeroticism is less obscure in Rene Clement's adaptation than Anthony Minghellas's. 

Purple Noon is supposed to be a thriller. Yes, it's thrilling.

Date seen: March 17, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book No. 7 (2013): LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN

Let The Great World Spin (a novel by Colum Mccann)

Ordinary lives of people who have witnessed the historical event of 1974 in New York City intertwine in this novel. The event: Philippe Petit walking on a tightrope between the Twin Towers. In the novel people witness him doing some outrageous moves while crossing the tightrope.

The novel consists of stories that are related. Some of such stories share the same characters. The characters all witnessed the event at Twin Towers. Reading the book, which had almost taken me forever to finish, I expected something masterful inventions to happen in the end that would connect the dots. I was able to connect some pieces, enough to say that the book is not a completely bad read after all. In fact, I enjoyed reading most parts of it.

The novel won both the National Book Award and IPMAC Dublin Literary Prize.

Date read: March 12, 2013

Rating: 3.5/5.0


Monday, March 11, 2013

Movie No. 59 (2013): FALLEN ANGELS

Fallen Angels (1995)
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Cast: Leon Lai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Michelle Reis
In Chinese, with English subtitles


The film's two parallel story line is populated with unusual but interesting characters. There's this hit man who, at the cross road of his life, starts to feel boredom in his life as an assassin. Then there's this drifter with a fake blond hair who is desperately looking for his mysterious ex-boyfriend. Their lives intersect with a mute ex-con, who has his own unconventional ways to get attention, like breaking into restaurants or ice cream trucks and forcing people to buy goods.

The film's plot, if there is, is unclear. But I suspect that, as in the brilliant Chungking Express, the plot is not important; instead, the film's priority is the mood that it sets and sustains to the end. In addition to the fact that Chungking Express and Fallen Angels share the same style and mood, they also have same familiar characters, for example: a blonde and one that eats expired canned pineapples. The addition of two minor characters, such as the assassin's detached boss/partner and the mute's grieving father, make the assassin's and mute's characters richer. The cinematography makes the urban Hong Kong setting (as surreal as appears on screen) an integral character in the film.

Overall, the film is an exhilarating piece of sight-and-sound artwork.

Date seen: March 11, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0





Monday, March 4, 2013

Movie No. 58 (2013): LOST HIGHWAY

Lost Highway (1997)
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty

Synopsis, from IMDB: After a bizarre encounter at a party, a jazz saxophonist is framed for the murder of his wife and sent to prison, where he inexplicably morphs into a young mechanic and begins leading a new life.

Like the title of the film, the film leads the audience to nowhere, but it is the ride. i.e., the experience of seeing it, that matters. The film never bores; on the contrary, it challenges one's imagination, consciousness, or reason. Maybe this is what they call the Lynchian realm. And the things I (just) saw in this film are a reason I love the films of David Lynch.

Date seen: March 4, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Movie No. 57 (2013): YANGGAW

Yanggaw (a.k.a Affliction) (2008)
Director: Richard Somes
Cast: Ronnie Lazaro, Tetchie Agbayani, Joel Torre
In Ilonggo (a dialect in the Philippines), with yellow English subtitles


Yanggaw gives a fresh take on the folkloric/mythical monster aswang on film. In this film, a young woman is afflicted by a strange condition which gradually turns her into monster (aswang). Her family, vowing to protect her and hide her from people, respond to this affliction in a way that they, too, act like beasts

The movie is more of a (rare kind of) horror flick than a family melodrama. The characters, specially the complexity of Ronnie Lazaro's character, are all well-written and executed on screen. Ronnie Lazaro deserves the Best Actor trophy the Urian awarded to him that year.

This movie deserves to be seen.

Date seen: March 4, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0





Sunday, March 3, 2013

Movie No. 56 (2013): ROSETTA

Rosetta (1999)
Director: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne
Cast: Emilie Dequene, Fabrizio Rongione
In French, with English subtitles

This film won Palme D'Or and Best Actress awards at the 1999 edition of Cannes Film Festival. The film follows the plight of Rosetta, an impulsive young woman, who will do anything (even betraying or wishing a friend dead) to land a job, even if its temporary, and maintain it. She lives with her alcoholic mother. Emilie Dequene is so good as she gives life to her character - Rosetta - as desperation personified. Dequene slips into the character that either you love or you hate. I'm in the latter, although I empathize with her. The camera work is dizzying sometimes as the cinematographer follows Rosetta most of the time in what seems like an in-your-face photography. The film ends unexpectedly, with not much of the conflicts resolved. Maybe, it's just the way it is.

Date seen: March 3, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0


Movie No. 55 (2013): ADORATION

Adoration (2008)
Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: Rachel Blanchard, Devon Bostick, Scott Speedman, Arsinee Khanjian

Synopsis, from IMDB: For his French-class assignment, a high school student weaves his family history in a news story involving terrorism, and goes on to invite an internet audience in on the resulting controversy.

I find the film's story complex, which is interesting at the start, but the dramatization is unsure despite clear characterization. The mixing of the subtle mystery and drama is a minor achievement for this film. So, I'm not sure if I like the film. I can't prevent myself from comparing this film to Atom Egoyan's previous films (Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter), which are both brilliant.

Date seen: March 3, 2013

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Movie No. 54 (2013): NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH

Night Train To Munich (1940)
Director: Carol Reed
Cast: Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison, Paul Henreid

A year before the war, a Czechoslovakian inventor whose work is in the artillery flees to England when the Germans invade Prague, leaving behind his daughter, who is sent to a concentration camp. Double-crosses and newly-formed allegiances ensure a father-and-daughter reunion, being kidnapped again, and transported to Germany. Meanwhile a British secret agent, disguised as a Nazi officer, executes a secret ploy to rescue the inventor and his daughter.

Seeing the film is like seeing a Hitchcock film. There are enough thrills to enjoy the film but the actions scenes that are supposed to bring the film to its climax are found wanting. But, still, this is a decent classic film that needs to be seen.

Date seen: March 3, 2013

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Movie No. 53 (2013): GOODBYE, DRAGON INN

Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003)
Director: Ming-Liang Tsai
Cast: Kang-Sheng Lee, Kiyonobu Mitamura, Shiang-Chyi Chen
In Mandarin, with English subtitles

On the night of the last-picture showing in a Chinese theater that has seen better days, a young Japanese guy gets trapped in the theater due to heavy rain. The guy and a few other souls in the theater bid goodbye to Dragon Inn, the final film being shown.

The film will test your patience. In my case, when I noticed that it had been more than 20 minutes of running time and still not a single character talked, I considered giving up. That nothing was happening was what was really happening. But I didn't lose interest. It's only after about 44 minutes that someone finally spoke - just two lines! He said, "Do you know that this theater is haunted?" And the next dialogue would be a couple of minutes before the film ended. Such dialogue, although extremely brief, is important for better understanding of the film.

The film is weird, but not in a bad way. While some may lose patience with the long shots and practically still shots, I endured such agonizing shots. It feels like the director has put me inside the theater and observe the other people as they watch the  very few people (or ghosts?) watch the movie. In a way, the film is an elegy to the dying movie-going tradition/culture.

Date seen: March 3, 2013

Rating: 4.0/4.0