Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Movie No. 103 (2013): HOUR OF THE WOLF

Hour of the Wolf (1968)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann
In Swedish, with English subtitles

A couple, a painter and his young wife, migrate to a small island, now their a refuge after a crisis. There, the painter paints though he finds no inspiration some times. The young wife attends to his needs. But the painter is visited by some strange characters which can be real or imagined. The painter believes they are demons. But he is also haunted by images from his past. Meanwhile, an old lady who passes by persuades the young wife to read the painter's diary, hidden in his satchel. Then he disappears. 

Obviously, this is a surrealist cinema, where there's a blur between what actually takes places and what is imagined, as if in a dream. This mix is confusing, although everything seems to make sense in the end. The entire film is told on the point o view of the young wife where, in the end, she throws in the rhetoric: Is it true that a woman who lives a long time with a man eventually winds up being like that man? I mean, she loves him, and tries to think like him, and see like him? They say it can change a person. I mean to say, if I loved him much less, and not bothered so of everything about him, could I have protected him better?

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 28, 2013


Monday, April 29, 2013

Movie No. 102 (2013): THE WALLS OF MALAPAGA

The Walls of Malapaga (1949)
Director: Rene Clement
Cast: Jean Gabin, Isa Miranda
In French and Italian, with English subtitles

Pierre, a French man, is wanted for killing his lover. The movie starts with Pierre coming out of his hiding place, which is aboard a ship, to seek medical assistance from a dentist in Genoa, Italy. A young girl takes him to the dentist; he gets involved with the girl's mother. Then his plans change.

The movie, which is set in post-war Italy, is an example of neorealist cinema. The black and white cinematography and the milieu work wonders in complementing the characters' psyche. The movie may not be the best output from the neorealism movement but it's definitely worth seeing.

The film won honorary Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 1950.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 23, 2013

Friday, April 26, 2013

Movie No. 101 (2013): SPELLBOUND

Spellbound (1945)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck

The movie is quite dated. Had I seen it in 1945 or a few years after, I would have showered it with more praises. But, I still find it enjoyable and entertaing despite having seen it just recently.
The movie is a romantic psychological drama. It opens with the professional medical staff of a posh mental asylum waiting for the new director. The director, when he shows up, turns out to be a young and handsome doctor. The staff expects someone who is old, the author of a famous book on psychiatry. One of the resident doctors suspects the new director as traumatized amnesiac; she even suspects that the new director has murdered the real new director. She hatches a scheme to uncover the identity of the new director, but her plans boomerang into her when she falls in love with the new director. Now, she has to save him.
This is not typical Hitchcock but it still creates thrill and suspense.
Rating: 3.5/4.0
Date seen: April 22, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Movie No. 100 (2013): IN DARKNESS

In Darkness (2011)
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Cast: Robert Wieckiewicz, Agnieszka Grochowska, Herbert Knaup

In darkness was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category of 2012 Academy Awards. It should have won, in my humble opinion.

Based on real events during the Holocaust, In Darkness is the story of an opportunist Catholic named Leopold Socha and of a group of Jews that he kept in the sewers (for a fee) for fourteen months to escape the wrath of the Nazis.

It all started as a purely business transaction between opportunist Socha and the Jews when Socha stumbled upon these group of Jews who were trying to escape the liquidation of the Ghetto in Lvov, Poland. Socha was a reformed thief, who now worked in the sewers. He knew the ins and outs of the labyrinthine, filthy, and rat-infested underground world. He kept the Jews in sewers; he also provided for them food and other necessities. All these would be for a fee. At one point the Jews ran out of cash. What would Socha do? Well, you should see the film to know how it presents such horrible events in the history of humanity, how such grim events present opportunity for redemption, and the tenacity of human to the will to survive. The director presents this without too much sentimentality and melodrama. The fact that these events really happened is enough to be really glued to every carefully composed scenes that inspire grief, cringing, anger, and, eventually, hope.

The movie is as powerful as Schindler's List. In fact, in my opinion, this is (barely) a better film.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 21, 2013


Monday, April 22, 2013

Movie No. 99 (2013): THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1 2 3

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)
Director: Tony Scott
Cast: Denzel Washington, John Travolta, John Turturro

This is a remake of the 70's classic, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. The basic plot of this film is the same as the original's. The major difference is that in the remake, there are interesting back stories thrown into the Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) and Ryder (John Travolta) characters in the remake. The back stories not only make the characters more interesting but also add spice to the overall feel of the movie. Modern technologies that are interspersed in some important scenes, including the overall special effects, make the movie more entertaining.

But I prefer the original.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: April 21, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Movie No. 98 (2013): THE HOME OF DARK BUTTERFLIES

The Home of Dark Butterflies (2008)
Director: Dome Karukoski
Cast: Niilo Syvaoja, Tommi Korpela, Kristiina Halttu
In Finnish, with English subtitles


Juhani, barely a teenager, has been to different foster homes before finally ending up in an isolated boys' (rehabilitation) home, which is an island, called The Island. Juhani has a tortured past which keeps on haunting him, mostly in a dream. The Island is run by The Principal, who is ruthless in his ways but who is caring deep inside. Living with The Principal in the island is his wife, his two daughters, and a 'governess.' There are six boys under rehabilitation program in the island other than Juhani. 

Rites of passage to gain acceptance is the first hurdle Juhari has to overcome. And when he's just about to succeed, he'll be confronted by his past without warning. And what shall happen next, as a consequence, happens. 

The actor who played Juhani is believable as a boy who, at a very young age, looks like being punished for obviously no reason. It's easy to care about the character because of this. This is also probably the reason why the melodrama is just what the film needs to understand the woes of each character. This way the movie becomes believable.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 21, 2013

Movie No. 97 (2013): LATE SPRING

Late Spring (1949)
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara
In Japanese, with English subtitles


I like Late Spring for its simplicity. No tricks. No frills. The narrative is straightforward. Ozu excellently captured on film how the father-daughter strong bond when talk about marriage is floated by the father's sister. The daughter is already of age when women marry and she's nearing the end of her 'shelf life' as a woman. The daughter doesn't bite but the father reluctantly agrees and even tricks his daughter using a scheme (a white lie) that will eventually convince the daughter to give in. 

We see the daughter, the father, the aunt, and the daughter's best friend talk about the would-be groom, but we never have (even) a glimpse of what he looks like. Maybe that's the director's way of making us worry , too, of the daughter's future with her future husband. They all describe him as handsome, like Gary Cooper, and coming from a respected family. Maybe that's enough. This uncertainty is also wonderfully captured in the daughter's sadness hidden behind her forced smile. All scenes showing uncomfortable confrontations between the best friends, between father and daughter, between the father and his sister, and between the father and the best friend are all in great composition typical of Ozu. These make the viewers uncomfortable , too, watching them. Maybe, that's the whole point.

Rating: 4.0/4.00

Date seen: April 21, 2013

Movie No. 96 (2013): MEMORIES OF MURDER

Memories of Murder (2003)
Director: Joon-Ho Bong
Cast: Kang-Ho Song, Sang-Kyung Kim, Roe-Ha Kim
In Korean, with English subtitles


The film is based on actual events that took place in a South Korean province in the '80s. In the film, a group of (what looks like) incompetent local detectives go after a serial killer who rapes and murders girls clad in red when it rains.

I will always be reminded of this film as one with good pacing, which is a requirement for any movie of this kind or genre. At some point, I almost lost patience because of so many 'instances' thrown into the script to establish one thing that has already been established even without the last one or two later 'instances.' There was even one scene, a sort of a teaser, that would give away the identity of the serial killer the local detectives had been going after. I don't know what exactly that's for; the ending, although powerful, is quite contradicting that. It must be stating a point.

This film is set at a time when the local police didn't have access (yet) to modern technology in crime scene investigation. So, it's quite a delight to see the detectives doing their job the old-fashioned way. This way it's easy to get into the detective's characters, therefore, easy to understand their actions. So, their frustrations and desperation as a result of their commitment and incompetency are easily understood. 

As I've already pointed out, this is one of the movies with memorable ending; it is also one with beautifully photographed scenes suggesting desperation and resignation.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 20, 2013


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Movie No. 95 (2013): SANJURO

Sanjuro (a.k.a. Tsubaki Sanjuro) (1962)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Takashi Shimura
In Japanese, with English subtitles


Usually sequels suck. Sanjuro is a sequel to Yojimbo; it dioesn't suck. While it's not better that Yojimbo, and it's not as great as Kurosawa's great films, Sanjuro is still is a masterpiece of escapist cinema.

In my review of Yojimbo, I pointed out that the lead character, despite his commitment to justice, is not likable but the film is easy to love. It's the same case as  in Sanjuro. This time, Tsubaki Sanjuro helps rescue a chamberlain kidnapped by corrupt officials. 

The camera works of Sanjuro are as good as those of Yojimbo's. 

Watching Sanjuro is really fun.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 20, 2013

Movie No. 94 (2013): A PROPHET

A Prophet (2009)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup
In French, with English subtitles


Malik, a 19-year old petty criminal, is taken in a prison facilities to serve a six-year sentence for violently attacking a police officer. Tahar Rahim, the newcomer who plays Malik, is believable as an afraid  sheep that is thrown into a lions den. But Malik's meekness will be threatened when the leader of a mobster, who has the guards in his pocket, becomes interested in him and bullies him to do a job for the gang in exchange of the gang's protection. This is his rite of passage to the darker world of criminality while inside prison.

The film succeeds in being a character study and a thriller at the same time, which is a rare combination.

The film was nominated as Best Foreign Language Film in 2010 at the Academy Awards. That same year, it won Best Film (Not in the English Language) and, in 2009, the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 20, 2013

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Movie No. 93 (2013): DEVILS ON THE DOORSTEP

Devils on the Doorstep (2000)
Director: Wen Jiang
Cast: Wen Jiang, Yihong Jiang, Teruyuki Kagawa
In Chinese and Japanese, with English subtitles

The film is funny. The film is tragic.

During the Japanese occupation of China, in a remote mountain village, a mysterious intruder dumps two (sacked) prisoners into a peasant's home for (safe)keeping. The peasant is further instructed to interrogate the prisoners. One of the prisoners is a hot-headed Japanese soldier; the other a Chinese, who is an interpreter. Come the following New Year, the prisoners and the transcript of the interrogation shall be collected. The intruder threatens the peasant that something bad will happen to the village if he fails. The next scenes, as consequences of this opening scene, are really funny, particularly the interrogation. But the unexpected turn of events will result in a tragic ending, one that I didn't really expect.

The movie, in my opinion, has some degree of being original. The black-and-white cinematography and the sudden shift to color, in my opinion, is wonderful. Of course, it means something that is relevant to the narrative.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 14, 2013


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Movie No. 92 (2013): YOJIMBO

Yojimbo (1961)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai
In Japanese, with English subtitles


As I was watching this film, I couldn't contain my admiration of the wonderfully photographed scenes, particularly the long shots. But, cinematography is just one of the wonders of this film. The other elements of the film stand out as well.

If you're expecting values (that) the film tries to showcase, don't expect it to get it from this film. Nothing about the lead character is likable. How can like someone who sells his loyalty or alliance to the higher bidder? This is the premise of the film. A wandering Samurai finds himself in a village that is divided by two warring gangster groups. With the ultimate goal of getting rid of these elements so that the village becomes peaceful again, he executes a scheme that will result in the two groups engaging in an all-out war that will wipe out each other. Looks like noble, but his motive is doubtful (in my opinion). Perhaps that's what the film is trying to show. And looking at it on this perspective, the film succeeds. A truly classic masterpiece.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 14, 2013




Monday, April 15, 2013

Movie No. 91 (2013): THE ADJUSTER

The Adjuster (1991)
Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: Elias Koteas, Arsinee Khanjian, Maury Chaykin

The narrative style that Atom Egoyan used in this film is reminiscent of his other film Exotica. The style fits the latter better making the movie a masterpiece, while only to some extent in The Adjuster. To some controlled extent, a derivative of style was also used in The Sweet Hereafter, making the film a masterpiece, too. The style that I am referring to is the director's predilection to presenting consecutive (or sparsely distributed) scenes that seem to be unrelated, which only make sense in the end. In this film, we see an insurance loss adjuster who specializes in arson rush to a property that is on fire on two different occasions. He is also shown in some scenes bedding his clients. The couple, together with their son and the wife's sister, live in a model housing in a property that has been abandoned by the developer. We see several scenes in which the adjuster's wife is shown viewing pornographic films which she evaluates and censors.  And then there's a disturbing image of a well-dressed woman, in a train, making out with a street vagrant in filthy clothes. Then there's this rich man who gives in to the perverted fantasies of his wife. And so on... 

The good thing about the movie is that it maintains the mystery until a few minutes before the final credits. It's like a jigsaw puzzle in which you get satisfaction from connecting the pieces and eventually see the complete picture.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 13, 2013

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Movie No. 90 (2013): HOLY SMOKE

Holy Smoke (1999)
Director: Jane Campion
Cast: Kate Winslet, Harvey Keitel

On her journey to India, Ruth is bewitched by its mysticism and decides to stay to the dismay of her parents. Her mother flies to India to persuade her to go back to Australia, with news that her father is very sick. Back home, Ruth is disappointed to know that her father is very healthy and that the 'sick' news is just a ploy to get her back. Meanwhile, Ruth's family hires a 'de-programmer' to 'exorcise' Ruth from her bewitchment with India and it's religion.

At first, it's quite interesting how the clash between religion and sex be handled in a film like this. Then as the movie's running time nears its end, everything gets muddled so that I no longer care how it will end. There's just too much scenes that crave attention thrown into it. Kate Winlet's believable portrayal as the 'delusional' Ruth is, for me, the only saving grace of the movie. While the movie is forgettable, it's Kate Winslet's artistry that will be remembered from it. By the way, the cinematography is noteworthy.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: April 13, 2013

Movie No. 89 (2013): DRUNKEN ANGEL

Drunken Angel (1948)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Takashi Shimura, Toshiro Mifune
In Japanese, with English subtitles

This lesser-known Kurosawa can match the greatness of the director's more popular films (Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Throne of Blood, etc.). It tells the story of an alcoholic doctor who runs a clinic in the slums of Tokyo; he treats mostly patients with TB. Then he comes across a young Yakuza hoodlum who's afflicted with TB. The doctor will make sure that the patient gets well so that he even gets himself involved in the personal affairs of the hoodlum. The result is a clash of generation and principles that is superbly translated into the screen by Kurosawa.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 13, 2013


Movie No. 88 (2013): UGETSU MONOGATARI

Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Cast: Masayuki Mori, Sajae Ozawa, Machiko Kyo
In Japanese, with English subtitles


The movie is a heartbreaking period (16th century) drama about two men who dream beyond their means and the consequences of pursuing such dreams. One is a pottery maker: he dreams of wealth. He sells his wares, leaves his wife, and becomes bewitched by a vengeful ghost. The other is a farmer; he dreams of becoming a celebrated samurai. He, too, sells his wares, and leaves his wife. The potter's wife gets murdered by a soldier.The farmer's wife ends up as a prostitute after being raped. 

The war in the backdrop, the supernatural element, the black and white cinematography, and the suggestive attack on machismo make this film rare and (indeed) as masterpiece not only of Japanese cinema but also of world cinema.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 12, 2013

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Movie No. 87 (2013): END OF WATCH

End of Watch (2012)
Director: David Ayer
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena

This movie is supposed to be a crime movie. Well, it is. But the movie cares more about the characters than the plots that we usually see in formulaic blockbusters of this genre. The movie is about two rookie cops who have stumbled upon a secret that will make them target of a dangerous drug cartel. Everything you expect from a crime movie is (necessarily) here, including the gore and the shootouts. But still the center of attention is still the bond between these cops and how they're affected by these stimuli.

It's obvious that most scenes were filmed using different recording devices, mostly handheld. These camera works place audience where the action actually happens. The performances of the lead actors are excellent, especially that of Jake Gyllenhaal's. He's not the (relatively) famous factor here, but a cop from head to toe.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 11, 2013


Movie No. 86 (2013): TIRADOR

Tirador (2007)
Director: Brillante Mendoza
Cast: Coco Martin, Jaclyn Jose, Kristoffer King, Julio Diaz, Jiro Manio, Nathan Lopez, Angela Ruiz
In Tagalog, with (optional) English subtitles

The film gives a glimpse of the daily lives of petty thieves who live in a section of Manila (Quiapo) where violence seems to be an everyday occurrence. Some of them are shown religious pious, too, when the occasion requires. The film has no plot; it does not attempt to resolve anything. Its documentary-style (narrative) presentation makes it appear real, like seeing it puts you right where the scenes are taking place. Either you just pass by and witness a snippet of their daily woes or shenanigans or eavesdrop on their loud but muddled conversations.

The film presents a kind of realism that is not easy to watch. It's disturbing in a way that it shows a cycle of violence and hopelessness that politicians capitalize on to their advantage. The editing style seems to elicit confusion. It's like you pass by a commotion in a crowd and there's more than one thing to pay attention to so that you shift your attention from the source of commotion itself to the crowd or bystanders whose attention get caught by the commotion. But you get only a glimpse of it. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 11, 2013





Thursday, April 11, 2013

Movie No. 85 (2013): FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY


Fireworks Wednesday (2006)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Hediyeh Tehrani, Tarane Aliddosti
In Farsi, with English subtitles

On the first day of her new assignment as a housekeeper, Rouhi becomes, in no time, absorbed into the marital quibbles of her new employers. The director, Asghar Farhadi, seems to be very comfortable in this type of domestic drama. Like in the two of his films that I've seen so far (A Separation and About Elly) one thing very noticeable is the editing. The shift from one scene to the next and those pans are so fluid. I'm becoming a fan of this film maker.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 11, 2013

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Movie No. 83/84 (2013): HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS Part 1/2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1/2 (2010/2011)
Director: David Yates
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Maggie Smith

I saw the first part two years ago. It was only yesterday that I had the chance to see the second part. However, I opted to see the first part (again) before I saw the second part. Doing this gave me a more satisfying viewing experience. It was like watching just one 4-hour movie. Now, I can declare that the 2-part finale of this widely-loved saga is a blast. If I had to rate the two installments separately, I would have given the first part a lower rating because, as it was, it couldn't stand alone as a movie. Its ending obviously suggested that it's not yet over (of course, everyone knew it).

Yes, what I'm saying is that the two-part finale is a good conclusion for the series. But, in my opinion, these are not the best movies in the series, Of course fans of the books in the series would be disappointed (again), expecting every detail in the book to be translated into the screen. In my case, the movies were all good entertainment. It's a good thing I didn't read any of the books. At least I'm saved from complaining.

I have to praise the execution of the final showdown of 'good' and 'evil' - really electrifying! The invasion of the Hogwarts and subsequent war are reminiscent of The Return of the King. Ralph Fiennes, as the evil villain, is so good; so is Helena Bonham Carter.

Rating: 3.5/4.0 (for the two-part finale); 4.0/4.0 (for the series as a whole)

Date seen: April 10, 2013

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Movie No. 82 (2013): 3-IRON (a.k.a. BIN-JIP)

3-Iron a.k.a. Bin-Jip (2004)
Director: Kim Ki-Duk
Cast: Seung-Yeon Lee, Jae-Hee Song
In Korean, with English subtitles


The film is partly a weird love story that only Korean cinema can offer. This makes the film look fresh and utterly original. I've never seen something like this (or even close to this) in the hundreds of films that I've seen so far.

The lead character is a drifter; there are suggestions that he is homeless. He doesn't speak much (or almost not at all). He breaks in into houses whose owners are temporarily out for vacation. There he squats and eat; in return, he cleans the house and do some chores for the absent owners. In one of his 'stints' he meets a battered woman who, later, becomes his accomplice in his future break-ins. They find their soul mate in each other. How this mutual understanding changes his monotony or routine makes the movie interesting.

The film practically silent. Dialogues are far and between. And the the ending? Whatever that means or suggests is something that is left for the viewer to decide. And that's a good thing. People will talk about it. I love this film.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seem: April 9, 2013

Movie No. 81 (2013): PROMETHEUS

Prometheus (2012)
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce

This movie, as a science fiction, is smart. It's not only good technically but it's also one that brandishes questions about life, unanswered though, in a way that is not forced. The theory of creation, in a way, is questioned by the lead character who until the end remains a believing in it. Maybe that's the purpose of life - to find it's meaning, and to find it's meaning is to understand where it comes from.

The movie follows a group of explorers, mostly scientists/doctors, in their search for a clue to the origins of life. They end up in one of the darkest corners of the universe and there they face their fears and the unexpected.

Ridley Scott is master of this genre. He gave us some of the most celebrated science fiction films ever - Blade Runner, Alien, Aliens, etc. Prometheus is more like Alien, or Aliens, but it only becomes original due to the basic theme that it showcases - a theme that may be controversial. But I don't want to discuss that here.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 9, 2013

Movie No. 80 (2013): ABOUT ELLY

About Elly (2009)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Shahab Hosseini, Taraneh Alidoosti
In Farsi, with English subtitles

How human beings react to a situation is perfectly captured in this movie. This movie is one with most fluid script and editing I've seen on screen. This is definitely one of the best films I've seen in recent years. It's directed by the same person who gave us A Separation, winner of Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012. Both films (About Elly and A Separation) have a Alfred Hitchcock feel.

The film follows the weekend getaway in an old resort house facing the Caspian Sea of three middle class families from Tehran. They were college friends. Sepideh invites Elly, her daughter's kindergarten teacher, and a recently divorced college friend (Ahmad) who now lives in Germany, in an effort to match the two. Elly is determined to stay for overnight only because her mother is sick. The other persuade Elly to stay longer. But an accident changes everything that has been planned. The son of one of the families gets swept away by the rough sea, and Elly disappears. Believing that Elly is still in the water, having tried to save the boy, everyone panics. But there's no body found. The question: did Elly drown or leave for Tehran? Panic will unearth a lie - a lie that will open a Pandora's box that will result in a moral dilemma among those involved.

This is a quintessential example of ensemble acting. The camera work is austere, but is a hundred times more effective than fake and expensive visual effects. Everything in this film is near perfect.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 9, 2013

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Movie No. 79 (2013): PROCES DE JEANNE D'ARC

The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962)
Director: Robert Bresson
Cast: Florence Delay
In French, with English subtitles

The movie, as the title suggests, is about the trial of Joan of Arc. It assumes that the audience has background knowledge about this piece in history. The reconstruction of the trial, imprisonment, and her being burned at the stake are based entirely on the transcripts of the trial that (really) took place.

This film gives a lasting impression. I'm not sure if I will watch it again because by simply recalling the reconstruction with the juxtaposed texts of the trial can be more rewarding that repeat viewing. The low-key approach to film-making works wonder in the movie. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 7, 2013

Movie No. 78 (2013): LIFE IS SWEET

Life is Sweet (1991)
Director: Mike Leigh
Cast: Alison Steadman, Jim Broadbent, David Thewlis, Stephen Rea, Jane Horrocks

The movie has no plot. It simply shows the day-to-day living of a middle class family in the suburbs of London. The characters either deal with rage they feel toward conventions or laugh about it or simply don't care. The movie is well acted and the script is a work of genius.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 7, 2013

Movie No. 77 (2013): SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS

Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson

The movie is populated with weird characters. The major character is a Matt, struggling screenwriter who, later on the movie, while write himself into his screenplay. Then there's this unemployed actor Billy,who is  the Matt's best friend; Billy moonlights as a dog thief. Then there's this religious man (Hans), who has a violent past; he's Billy's partner in crime. Finally, there's this ruthless gangster (Charlie) who will kill for his dog. Well, what do you expect from a movie with weird characters? A weird movie! But for me, the movie's weirdness is it's strength. It's also a good thing that the actors are really good.

The movie is filled with bloodbath, violence, and death, some macabre. But, at the same time, it's laden with humor. Black comedy is it. Or, is it dark comedy? This movie reminds me of In Bruges which, for me, was the best film of 2008. Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges share the same writer/director (McDonagh) and lead actor (Farrell). In both instances, Colin Farrell was nominated as the Best Lead Actor in a Comedy in Golden Globes; in fact, he won for In Bruges.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 7, 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book No. 8 (2013): NEWS OF A KIDNAPPING

News of a Kidnapping
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The book is the dramatization of a real event in the history of Colombia. The fiction format is used effectively well by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the resulting narrative is as powerful as some of his great works.
 
The book chronicles the hardships, fear, and hopelessness that the 10 kidnapped personalities, mostly journalists, suffered in the hands Pablo Escobar and his 'army," as well as of the negotiations that followed. Escobar was head of a drug cartel; he masterminded the kidnapping of the 10 notable Colombians to use as bargaining pawns. He opposed the extradition treaty signed by Colombia and the US.
 
I found the book mostly insightful. I don't need to comment of the technical merits of the book since to excel in that aspect is already a given for a novelist of Garcia Marquez's caliber. I didn't know Pablo Escobar was until I became curious because he's the main 'villain' in the story.
 
The narrative does not have the magical realism the author has been known for. Despite that, there's still the author's fingerprints stamped all over the book.
 
Rating: 4.5/5.0
 
Date read: March 19, 2013

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Movie No. 76 (2013): RENT: FILMED LIVE ON BROADWAY

Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (2008)
Director: Michael John Warren
Cast: Will Chase, Adam Kantor, Tracie Thomas, Justin Johnston

I've seen RENT five times already in two different media and five different productions. The first I saw was the off-Broadway production in Los Angeles (with Neil Patrick Harris as Mark Cohen). I fell so much in love with the musical that I paid to see two different local productions in Manila (at different times) a few years after. Then I saw film adaptation of the musical (by Chris Columbus)  in 2006. It had mixed reviews but I didn't care (and I still don't care); I still found it fascinating and very entertaining. And, finally, the version that was filmed on a Broadway stage. This film.

Rent is the story of a group of struggling artists who live together in building that will soon be demolished to pave the way for the building of a cyber studio. They couldn't pay rent. Some of them live with the dreaded AIDS. For me, this musical is one with the best song track. My personal favorites are I'll Cover You, One Song Glory, Without You, and Seasons of Love. The best thing about this version is that it's like watching the electrifying performances live inside a theater.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 1, 2013




Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Movie No. 75 (2013): HOWARDS END

Howards End (1992)
Director: James Ivory
Cast: Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, Vanessa Redgrave

The film is based on E.M. Forster's 1910 novel. In a fluid script, the films clearly presents the  hypocrisy and clash of classes in the Edwardian society, and the 'fight' over the ownership of the manor at Howards End.

I didn't read the book. I might read it in the future. It's a good thing that I haven't read it yet because the film version, for me, is already a masterpiece. People will always say the book is better. Of course, the book is always better since it has the details and moods that simply can't be translated into the film medium; or, even if such details can be put in the film adaptation the film can't be better because of extended running time.

Anthony Hopkins (as Mr. Henry Wilcox) did a great job as the pretentious and scheming widower of the rich mistress (Vanessa Redgrave) of the country manor at Howards End who, out of guilt, marries the mistress' friend (Emma Thompson, as Margaret Schlegel) who doesn't know that she inherited the manor from the mistress. The greedy children of the Wilcoxes destroyed the will that Mrs. Wilcox wrote in her dying bed. Helena Bonham Carter (as Helen Schlegel) is the headstrong sister of Margaret who had a past with one of the sons of the Wilcoxes.

Emma Thompson seemed to have understood Margaret Schlegel very well. The depth of feeling and right emotions (as response to the turn of events) that she brings to the character  is more than enough to deserve the many Best Actress awards she won for her performance in the film that year, including Academy Awards. The other two (Academy) awards won by the film were for art direction and screenplay, also for obvious reasons (if you saw the film).

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 1, 2013


Monday, April 1, 2013

Movie No. 74 (2013): SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irfhan Khan

I saw it first in 2009. Two years ago I decided to see it once a year. This is my third, so far. Call it guilty pleasure. This is one of the most feel-good films I've seen. In some way it's uplifting despite some scenes that are not easy to the eyes.

I think I don't need to mention what the film is about. A lot of people, I'm sure, have seen this. Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture in 2009 (for films exhibited in 2008) and, while it may not be the best of that batch, it will certainly be among the most memorable films of all time. Dev Patel is adorable and convincing as the titular character. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: March 31, 2013

Movie No. 73 (2013): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
Director: Joseph Sargent
Cast: Walther Matthau, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo

Films of this genre don't usually fascinate to the level that we expect them to do if they're quite dated. This film is quite dated, having been shown in 1974, and there's already a remake which promises to use modern technology in cinema that will make the thriller more thrilling. But the film still fascinates although it's my first time to watch the original version. The film, using a decent script and bleak cinematography in scenes at the subway rails, succeeds in creating suspense and tension on the very familiar plot: Four men hijack a part of the train in the busy New York subway and demand ransom. But even if the ransom gets paid, how will they get away from the subway? That's the dilemma of the hijackers and the negotiators.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 30, 2013