Sunday, May 26, 2013

Movie No. 121 (2013): THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL

The Exterminating Angel (1967)
Director: Luis Bunuel
Cast: Silvia Pinal, Jose Baviera
In Spanish, with English subtitles

The film is a what-if kind of film. Here the situation is that the guests of a dinner party can't seem to leave when the party's over. There's no reason offered. That's why the film is called surreal. Morning comes. Another day passes. Several days more pass. No one is able to leave. Here, the guests are shown to have succumbed to debasing behaviors, like those of animals', in dealing with boredom, hunger, and thirst. There are heated arguments. There is death. There is suicide. There is this. There is that. 

Like Bunuel's later film, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, this film is a scathing attack of the hypocrisy of social class conventions. And he's done it here in the most absurd and macabre, but effectively satirical way.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 26, 2013

Movie No. 120 (2013): NOTORIOUS

Notorious (1946)
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Cary Grant

This is the story of Alicia Huberman who is recruited by an American agent to infiltrate and spy on a notorious organization of Nazis who relocated to South America after the fall of Hitler. She pushes the limit and marries the leader of the organization, who used to be one of her father's associates. Her father, a convicted Nazi spy, has just committed suicide. Conflict starts when the American agent admits to himself that he has fallen in love with Alicia, but, choosing duty over love, creates an image that he only pretends to be in love with her, which the latter tries to believe, so she can carry out her mission.

This is not quite the Hitchcock type of film. It is romance or melodrama but the way Hitchcock mix it with the elements of a thriller is something to behold. There are no special effects to brag about but the camera works are a wonder. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 26, 2013

Movie No. 119 (2013): ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST

Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
Director: Sergio Leone
Cast: Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale

The film consists of two stories that intersect. One is that of a land-grabbing scheme that leads to the massacre of the landowner (and his family) who owns the piece of land that has the only source of water in  the area where the railroad being constructed would have passed through to provide water for steam locomotives. The man who masterminds the massacre is the cripple railroad tycoon; he hired gun men to do the massacre. The gun men plant evidence in the scene to frame up a notorious bandit whose head is worth $5,000. But there's one complication: the bride of the massacred landowner arrives during the day of the massacre, and she is now the owner of the piece of land. And then another scheme is brooding: to kill the bride, the new owner of the land.  

The other is a story of revenge. Here, a mysterious, harmonica-playing stranger arrives in the area. His mission: to find his brother's killer. In the process, he meets the newly-widowed bride and protects her from the new scheme to kill her. 

I like this film very much. The story line is simple but the translation into film is well-thought of so that its resounding overall impact will linger. In my opinion, this is one of the most beautifully photographed film. And the haunting musical score is also among the best.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 26, 2013

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Movie No. 118 (2013): THE CONFESSION (a.k.a. L'Aveu)

The Confession (a.k.a. L'Aveu) (1970)
Director: Costa Gavras
Cast: Yves Montand, Simone Signoret

The main character in this movie is Arthur London, a Czechoslovakian communist who helped enable the power structure that later, as shown in the first few minutes of the movie, will imprison him and make him confess about things he didn't commit (e.g., subversion, espionage, treason). He's not the only one that's been drugged and tortured with sleep deprivation to condition him to confess, and then rehearsed on what or how to answer to questions during the public trial. He's one of the few who's spared from death penalty. Some years after he's release he's shown to have stumbled upon one of his torturers by chance; the latter, in apologetic manner, approaches him and say, "What happened to us? Do you understand any of it?" London stares at him blankly and walks away without saying anything.

One thing that still lingers in me is the repetitive chorus of torture/interrogation of London. At some point I got annoyed by this presentation. But I found out later that it must have been deliberately done that way. The director could be making a point and it took too long for me to realize it - maybe as long as London finally gave up and gave in to what his torturers wanted him to do and say. The movie is bleak and it's trying to say something.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: May 21, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie No. 117 (2013): FIRES ON THE PLAIN

Fires On The Plain (1959)
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Cast: Eiji Funakoshi, Osamu Takizawa
In Japanese, and occasional Tagalog, with English subtitles

The central character of the film is Tamura, a Japanese soldier who got afflicted with TB during the final days of Japanese occupation in the Philippines. In the beginning of the film, he is shown seeking medication but his demoralized platoon leader gives him a grenade instead to commit suicide because the make-shift hospitals for ill-stricken and wounded Japanese soldiers are full. But he insists on staying alive and begins to head  toward Palompon (in Ormoc); he is told that there's an order for Japanese soldiers to go there for evacuation to Cebu. Along the way, he meets other soldiers who, like him, are emaciated, demoralized, hunger-stricken and disease-afflicted. 

The searing, anti-war film is told on the point of view of a Japanese soldier. And the story that he relates is completely different from what we know. The film makes me want to pity the conditions of the soldiers despite the atrocities they committed. It's hard to imagine the macabre and gruesome acts they did for survival. This movie depicts all these. So, the film is a testament that not all Japanese soldiers would commit suicide (and die for the country).

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 13, 2013

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Movie No. 116 (2013): BROTHER (a.k.a. BRAT)

Brother (a.k.a. Brat) (1997)
Director: Alexey Balabanov
Cast: Sergey Bodrov Jr., Viktor Sukhorukov
In Russia, with English subtitles


The lead character is called Danila Bagrov. He's just been released from a two-year compulsory military service,  where, according to him, he did clerical functions. His mother talks him into finding his 'successful' brother in the city. He finds his brother and is lured into the kind of business his brother is in. 

Danila Bagrov is a multi-dimensional character. He is cool; his moral code benefits those who cannot defend themselves. He loves the popular rock band Nautilus. It's easy to like him despite his prejudices and confusing psyche. I can't call this movie a gangster movie with style, but regardless of whatever label it will be accorded with, it works in almost all aspects. 

I have to mention that the lead actor, Sergey Bodrov Jr., made an outstanding performance portraying Danila Bagrov.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 12, 2013

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Movie No. 115 (2013): MAY 18

May 18 (2007)
Director: Ji-Hoon Kim
Cast: Sang-Kyung Kim, Yu-Won Lee, Sung-Kee Ahn
In Korean, with English subtitles


The film is based on the massacre of protesting students and common people (who oppose the military coup of Chun Doo-Hwan) in Gwangju in South Korea on May 18, 1980. The story evolves around Min Woo, a shy cab driver, and his brother, Jin Woo, a student. The film shows how their simple and peaceful life gets threatened by the presence of militia in their once peaceful town of Gwangju. One fateful day the massacre happens and the people have to act against it. The brothers find themselves in the middle of these.

Overall, the movie itself is confused. Not confusing. The beginning of the film shows a military leader preaching before the group of military interns about a chance to put their training to use. I was convinced the movie is about them. And then they are shown being transported to some place not clear to them, only to find out (later in the movie) that they will be executioners in the massacre. The part of the film involving these military interns is (in my opinion) irrelevant to the narrative because the film is really about the massacre and the people who are connected one way or another to the victims. 

The theme and story of the movie are serious. I agree that for movies with serious themes, some comic relief or scenes that will give the audience some opportunity for a reprieve from the cringing are necessary. But in the film, there's so much of these that the movie looks confused: it looks like comedy or serious historical drama. It can't be both.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: May 12, 2013


Monday, May 13, 2013

Movie No. 114 (2013): THE UNJUST

The Unjust (2010)
Director: Seung-wan Ryoo
Cast: Jeong-Min Hwang, Seung-Beom Ryu, Hae-Jin Yu
In Korean, with English subtitles


The film centers on the solving of the case involving a series of murders targeting children. It begins with a news about the Korean President becoming directly involved (and pressing the police) to solve the case. The impatiently eager cops respond but shot to death a suspect. In what looks like a silent panic, the police targets any likely suspect to close the case. This is where the dirty work sets in. And the entire two hours of the movie's running time will show mostly schemes, shifting alliances, blackmails and some levels of betrayal involving the prosecution team and the people assigned to do the dirty work.

The movie is of the crime-thriller genre. Most of the best Korean films (of this genre) that I've seen have almost-original plots and shocking twists. This is not one of them. There's nothing special about the script and narrative style. I didn't feel the involvement of the President. The supervisors were overacting (I mean, the actors who played them). There were unnecessary displays of violence. To some level, I was entertained. But it just didn't work (for me).

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: May 12, 2013

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Movie No. 113 (2013): THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Director: John Frankenheimer
Cast: Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Angela Lansbury, Janet Leigh

This is one of the best political thrillers I've ever seen. The movie has some tinge of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth that may be sparse but definitely contributes to film's brilliance. The screenplay is as compelling as the actors who give life to all the interesting characters in the film.

The movie is practically about Sgt. Raymond Shaw. While in Korea, he and his platoon were abducted by the Korean troops. While in captivity, they were subjected to a 'brainwashing program" by some Russian and Chinese agents Months later they were released. They were accorded a heroes welcome back in the United States. Sgt. Shaw was even rewarded with a medal of valor. But, back home, some of Sgt. Shaw's men behaved differently. He, himself, looked like a man with tortured soul. Capt. Ben Marco, one of the abducted, who looked like the most devastated and haunted by the experience at the prisoner camp, was the first one to piece things together and got well. Now, he must act to rescue Sgt. Shaw; it appeared that Sgt. Shaw was programmed into becoming an assassin and he must stop it. Sgt. Shaw's volatile condition would (also) be used by his ambitious mother who would do anything and use anyone for political gains.

This film is an achievement is every aspect. A masterpiece.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 12, 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Movie No. 112 (2013): GOOD MORNING (a.k.a. OHAYO)

Good Morning (a.k.a. Ohayo) (1959)
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Keiji Sada, Yoshiko Kuga

Two boys, in an attempt to emotionally blackmail their parents, make a pact: they will not speak any word for an indefinite time until their parents buy them a television set. Here, indefinite really means indefinite.

From the plot one can extrapolate that the film will be funny. It is. The humor is indelible, not badgering, not cheap. This is also an unassuming film that comments on some aspects of Japanese psyche during that period when this film was made. Yasujiro Ozu's minimalist style, projected in an exquisite cinematography, is quite noticeable. This is another good example of pure cinema. 

Funny and memorable!

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 10, 2013

Movie No. 111 (2013): ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS

Elevator To The Gallows (1958)
Director: Louis Malle
Cast: Jeanne Moreau, Maurice Ronet
In French, with English subtitles

The plot is simple: A wife plots to kill his husband with the help of her lover, who is his husband's associate. It could have been a perfect murder, but something went wrong. Then one false move leads to another. And the thrill associated with all these was effectively conveyed by the clever script, stylish direction, jazzy score, and sharp black-and-white cinematography.



Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 9, 2013

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Movie No. 110 (2013): CHOP SHOP

Chop Shop (2007)
Director: Ramin Bahrani
Cast: Alejandro Polanco, Isamar Gonzales

The plot is simple: An adolescent orphan, a boy of Hispanic origin, lives with his sister in a chop shop, an auto-body repair shop in the outskirts of Brooklyn, New York. His dream is simple: to earn enough money to buy an old van from another junk shop so he and his sister can start a burger business of their own. 

If this film were made in the '40s, some would have called it neorealism. I agree. Yes, the movie cast non-actors and the story is very apt for a neorealist cinema. During the final act of the movie, I was reminded of Bicycle Thieves (the greatest film that came out of the neorealism movement and one of the greatest films ever made, in my opinion). And then I realize that Bicycle Thieves and Chop Shop share the same message: Even the smallest of dreams can get shattered.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 4, 2013


Movie No. 109 (2013): THE X FILES (I WANT TO BELIEVE)

The X Files: I Want To Believe (2008)
Director: Chris Carter
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson

Partners Scully and Mulder are called back to duty to investigate on a series of kidnappings and murders. A former priest, who was a pedophile, offer assistance, claiming he sees visions related that may lead to trapping the 'serial killer.' Mulder is eager, Scully is recluctant. It appears that the movie is more interested in the Mulder and Scully characters but fails in the process. The movie is weak. The premise is something that you may have already seen other (better) movies. Or, this may have worked for a 40-min TV movie. It's so irritating to see Duchovny trying to portray Mulder who wants to redeem himself. Even Anderson is not convincing enough to show the reluctance of Scully.

Disappointing.

Rating: 1.5/4.0

Date seen: May 2, 2013


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Movie No. 108 (2013): BODY OF LIES

Body of Lies (2008)
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe

Synopsis (from IMDB): A CIA agent on the ground in Jordan hunts down a powerful terrorist leader while being caught between the unclear intentions of American supervisors and Jordanian Intelligence.

Well, that summary is ridiculously short and simple. In the film, so many things happen, and it's messy. I mean, the script itself is not well polished. It gets confusing sometimes - maybe in the same way that the Leonardo DiCaprio's character is confused sometimes. One thing that makes me cringe in dissatisfaction is the subplot where the DiCaprio character falls for a Muslim nurse. In my opinion, that's completely unnecessary. It actually cheapens the (already) disappointing movie.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: May 1, 2013






Movie No. 107 (2013): BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Director: George Roy Hill
Cast: Paul Newman, Robert Redford

The film tells the mostly-true story of two bandits who join the Hole in the Wall Gang. The gang, with Butch as leader, rob a passenger train in an unusually cool way. Then they rob it again for the second time, but the railroad boss hires lawmen or trackers to foil the crime. The tenacious trackers tail the Gang. Now, having had just gotten away with their crime, Butch and Sundance agree to go to Bolivia, with Sundance's girlfriend, to try their luck in banditry. 

The best thing about the movie is the script. It's very seldom that we see a crime film that's presented in a way that's cheerful and with confident air. The Butch and Sundance characters are both likable despite they're bandits. It's a good thing also that the film does not glorify thievery; it just presents a story. 

By the way, the ending and the 'jump' in the middle of the film remind of the final scene of Thelma & Louise. These are memorable.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 1, 2013

Friday, May 3, 2013

Movie No. 106 (2013): WAR WITCH

War Witch (a.k.a. Rebelle) (2012)
Director: Kim Nguyan
Cast: Rachel Mwanza
In French, with English subtitles

The film is about Komona, who, at 12, was kidnapped by from her (African) village to become a child soldier. She was forced to commit a horrible act of violence that would haunt her in the coming years. Now 14 she has already known her way around a machine gun, but she unexpectedly falls for an albino soldier despite the ugly life of atrocities and hopelessness they've been living. This changes everything.

The film, which is presented (almost) as docudrama, is bleak and harrowing. The realism that it conveys to the audience is presented almost effortlessly. Thanks to the rawness of the portrayal of the lead actress and of important supporting cast.

The film, representing Canada,  was nominated as Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards early this year.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: May 1, 2013


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Movie No. 105 (2013): THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY

Through A Glass Darkly (1961)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Harriet Andersson, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Bjornstrand
In Swedish, with English subtitles


The film was winner of the 1962 Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Having (just) been released from a psychiatric hospital, Karin is joined by her father, husband, and teenage brother in an island for a summer vacation to speed up her recovery. In this claustrophobic setting, no one seems to offer the support that she needs. Her father is a writer who, she discovers later, is taking advantage of her schizophrenia for his own literary means. Her husband, who is a doctor, can't do anything. Her brother is too much occupied dealing with the emotional tension of his (sexually) coming of age.These men simply watch as she descends slowly into the depth of madness. 

In the back cover of the Criterion DVD release of the film, Through A Glass Darkly is aptly described as one that "presents an unflinching vision of a family's near-disintegration and a tortured psyche further taunted by God's intangible presence."

The theme of the film is bleak, but its greatness lies in the way the director uses mood to communicate bleakness. The near-perfect performances of the actors also help conveying the message of the film. This is one of the greatest works of cinema.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 1, 2013


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Movie No. 104 (2013): ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Director: Michel Gondry
Cast: Kate Winslet, Jim Carrey, Tom Wilkinson, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Dunst

I have to admit that the first time I saw this film, my jaw dropped as the end credits scrolled up because I didn't get it completely. But I didn't feel I didn't like it. In fact, I was inclined to believe that there's something in the movie that made me want to see it again. Then I saw it again after a few weeks and I was happy I did. From then on I kept seeing the film at least once every year. My latest viewing, which was two days ago, was my 8th or 9th time already! This is one of my favorite films of all time. In fact, I consider it one of the greatest films ever made.

The film is romance, drama, comedy, and science fiction. This rare combination rarely works, and when it works, it's unforgettable. Kate Winslet did very well as Clementine Kruczynski. Clementine had the memory of her boyfriend erased after a nasty fight with him. The erasing was through a 'scientific' procedure that was performed while she slept. In the film, there's this firm that specializes on the procedure; it's called Lacuna. Clementine's boyfriend was Joel Barish, played by Jim Carrey, who, upon learning of Clementine's erasing him from her memory, was devastated. He also submitted himself to the procedure to have his memories of Clementine erased. But something happened during the process: Joel tried to resist the erasing of good  and happy memories. Did he succeed?

There's also this side story involving the staff of Lacuna which added spice to the film's (already) 'delicious' narrative. Even Jim Carrey, who had been identified with his disgusting and, sometimes, offensive slapstick antics in his previous blockbuster movies, was believable as hopeless romantic in this film. I could still see traces of Jim Carrey in Joel Barish, but I could forgive that because the movie itself was overwhelming.

I will see it again next year.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 29, 2013