Monday, October 28, 2013

Movie No. 183 (2013): BEFORE MIDNIGHT

Before Midnight (2013)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy

Jesse and Celine will go down in the history of cinema as popular couple and characters in a film. They had a chance meeting on a Vienna-bound train in 1994, strolled Paris while talking about a lot of thing, and parted ways before sunrise the day after. They met again after nine years, did some catching up, and parted ways again before sunset of that day. This movie, Before Midnight, the third installment in what appears to be a trilogy, is set in Greece, nine years after Jesse and Celine's last meeting in Before Sunset. Now they're living together with their twin daughters. In the movie they're spending the last day of their summer vacation in southern Greece.

Watching it is like watching a film written by Woody Allen. I mean witty dialogues and intelligent screenplay. This is one kind of movie whose greatness relies much on the dialogues and the actors who effectively deliver them on the basis of how the characters they play would do, complemented with appropriate body movements. I was expecting it to be a romantic movie. Indeed, to some level it is a romantic movie. But the movie has some horrifying aspects that give it some complexity and another layer. Just listen to the incessant debate of the couple leading to the film's conclusion, which, by the way, is masterfully executed. And I will not be surprised if, another nine years from now, a fourth sequel will be shown. Will they call it Before Dawn or Before Twilight? Just kidding.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 28, 2013   

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Movie No. 182 (2013): NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS

Neighbouring Sounds (2012)
Director: Kleber Mendonca Filho
Cast: Irandhir Santos, Gustavo Jahn
In Portuguese, with English subtitles

Synopsis, from ROTTEN TOMATOES:
A history of oppression and violence threatens to engulf the residents of an affluent seaside community in this film. A palpable sense of unease hangs over a city block in the coastal town of Recife in Brazil. Home to prosperous families and the servants who work for them, the area is ruled by an aging patriarch and his sons. When a private security firm is reluctantly brought in to protect the residents from a recent spate of petty crime, it unleashes the fears, anxieties and resentments of a divided society still haunted by its troubled past.

It's easy to get lost in this movie. One layer of it discusses social class. Another layer lets us peek into some characters' mysterious lives. Then there's the tapestry of interesting idiosyncrasies of the characters who may or may not be associated with the place's history of violence. This is a kind of film that tests patience. The film's running time is 2 hours 5 minutes, but it's in the last 3 minutes that everything will make sense. I almost gave up to finish seeing the film. But I'm glad I stayed until the end; my patience paid off. The film's use of space and eerie sounds add to the film's greatness. At some point I felt like I was watching a horror film because of excellent aural orchestration. But thinking of what the central story is about, there's indeed some elements of horror in it. But not in the usual way we perceive horror in horror films.

I didn't expect the way it ended. But it's grand!

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 27, 2013

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Movie No. 181 (2013): LE PASSE (a.k.a. The Past)

The Past (a.k.a. Le Passe)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Berenice Bejo, Tahar Rahim, Ali Mosaffa
In French and Farsi, with English subtitles

The situation and characters in this film are so interesting they can keep you glued to every scene. A mother of two, her estranged Iranian husband, the man she will marry, a rebellious teenage daughter, a wife in coma, a stubborn 8-year-old son, an illegal worker, a broken suitcase, the stain in the laundry, and email messages are the characters and "planted" things that populate the intelligently-written screenplay of this film. It's very clever to use these things effectively to bring about the personalities of every character in this movie. In some scenes some of these inanimate things are used as metaphor to the inner demons of some characters. 

The basic plot of this movie is very simple, but the buildup of tension is so unexpected it sustains the suspense. Like the director's other movie, A Separation, which won Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards two years ago, The Past is also tinged with some Hitchcockian flavor. In the movie, a mother of two is reunited with her estranged husband who has just flown all the way from Iran to France to finalize their divorce application. But, she is already living with the man she will marry once. Her estranged husband will stay in their house while attending to the divorce proceedings. How is that as contributory to the tension buildup in the already strained relationship? But everything appears to be smooth-sailing until her rebellious teenage daughter reveals something from the past out of torment. It's after this that the succeeding scenes become "explosive" until the final scene.

This is so far the best film of the 2013 batch that I've seen so far. Maybe, one of the best of the films of the last two or three years. It's as good as A Separation. I will not be surprised if this films gives the director his second Oscar.

Rating: 4.0(+)/4.0

Date seen: October 20, 2013


Movie No. 180 (2013): EVIL DEAD

Evil Dead (2013)
Director: Fede Alvarez
Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas

A group of friends chanced upon the 'chained' Book of the Dead while on vacation in an old cabin in the midst of a forest. They unchain it, unknowingly unleashing the demons that will possess and dispose them to gory death one by one leaving and just one fighting for survival. That's what basically the movie is about. If it sounds familiar, it's because it's a remake of the much better and 'funnier' 1981 original. And this kind of plot has been rehashed so many times in different form.

The film is practically a "gorefest" and "borefest" at the same time. It didn't frighten the hell out of me. I got irritated instead, and that's the horrifying part.

Rating: 1.5/4.0

Date seen: October 15, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Movie No. 179 (2013): STOKER

Stoker (2013)
Director: Chan-wook Park
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska

After his father's tragic death, India has to deal with living alone with his unstable mother and an uncle, his father's brother. she never knew existed until his father's death. At first, India suspects his uncle of having to do with his father's death, but later circumstances lead to her being infatuated with him.

The film is directed by famous Korean director, Chan-wook Park. It is expected that the movie is stylish in the way he presented to some of his masterpieces (e.g., Old Boy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance). But, in  my opinion, this movie is more of style, diluting the content. There's nothing special about the plot, if that's the plot. It's overused. The twist is not worth 0.5-magnitude earthquake. In some cases, the unclear motivation of murderous characters in doing their actions help buildup the mystery, resulting in critically-raved product. But, it doesn't work here for some reason. I keep on asking: "Why is he or she behaving the way he or she does?" And the ending is... what's that? But the technical aspects are good.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: October 15, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Movie No. 178 (2013): L'ESQUIVE

L'Esquive (a.k.a. Games of Love and Chance) (2003)
Director: Abdel Kechiche
Cast: Osman Elkharraz, Sara Forestier
In French, with English subtitles


Krimo is a high school toughie who's just been dumped by his girlfriend. Immediately, he develops a crush on his classmate, Lydia, who's into classics and drama. Funny thing, he also develops interest in classics and drama and volunteers to be the replace his classmate who's to play lead to Lydia's character. But Magali, the girl who has just dumped Krimo, doesn't like Krimo's closeness to Lydia. This conflict will lead to an interesting story involving them and all the other people around them, mostly their friends and kin. 

The best thing about the movie is the rawness of attack of all the first-time actors on their respective characters, especially Osman Elkharraz' Krimo and Sara Forestier's Lydia. The presence of practically all neophyte actors on the screen feels like watching a very interesting reality show. The screenplay succeeds in making the lives of these teenagers parallel or intersect the classic their class is having a stage production of. A minor downside, though, is the repetitious scenes that convey the same message. I suppose that's just the way it should be, after all such scenes involve takes on rehearsals. Typical teenager problems are presented a matter-of-fact. without the irritating melodrama. The theme is universal.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: October 14, 2013


Monday, October 14, 2013

Movie No. 177 (2013): THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN


The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012)
Director: Felix van Groeningen
Cast: Veerle Baetens, Johan Heldenbergh
In Flemish, with English subtitles

This film is Belgium's entry to the Best Foreign Language Film category of Academy Awards. Synopses of this film on different websites are one in describing  it as melodrama. Indeed it is, but it's a far cry from being a tearjerker like most melodramas are. But still, it can make you cry. Some situations can be a pin to burst those tear glands without even trying.

The lead characters in this movie are an odd couple. Didier is a bluegrass singer, an atheist who's crazy about America. Elise is a tattoo artist, a devout catholic. It's quite interesting that it's the difference in their faith and fundamental beliefs that makes their bond stronger. Then tragedy sets in. And what used to be their unifying bond becomes the object of their disputes, which will threaten their marriage.

The movie is told with dizzying editing style. It's when you get used to it that you'll appreciate the technique. It certainly makes the movie more interesting. The script is bold. Characterization is creative. The bluegrass music is itself an important character. The symbolism is something to note.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 14, 2013




Movie No. 176 (2013): SARONG BANGGI

Sarong Banggi (2005)
Director: Emmanuel dela Cruz
Cast: Jaclyn Jose, Angelo Ilagan
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

This film was an entry in the 2005 Cinemalaya Film Festival. I didn't hear about the film until Jaclyn Jose won an Urian Best Actress award for this film in 2006. Urian noticed her performance in what looked like a film nobody saw. That made me curious. After 7 years, I finally got to see it. The film is really worth seeing if only for Jaclyn Jose's controlled acting. For me, that's the best she'd done in her acting career, so far. Her thinking-aloud scenes and monologues are the best part of the movie. Angelo Ilagan's innocent-looking face is perfect for his role, which he used effectively. For a neophyte actor, his performance is more than passable. 

In the movie, Jaclyn Jose is Melba, a prostitute in her late 30s. She still looks beautiful. Angelo is Nyoy, a teenager who is about to be 'baptized' into manhood. The night Melba and Nyoy meet is the night before Nyoy's (probably eighteenth) birthday. For Melba, it's just one ordinary night of hooking. For Nyoy, it's something else. But fate plays a cruel and twisted game on them. That night will change one of them, or both of them forever.

While the twist appears overused in a lot of movies and TV series, it still manages to make the movie worth seeing, almost a breath of relatively fresh air. It's the aftermath of that twist that matters, and will always matter. The movie is bittersweet. Maybe sad. Or liberating. But's it's a really good movie.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: October 14, 2013



Sunday, October 13, 2013

Movie No. 175 (2013): CHICO & RITA

Chico & Rita (2010)
Directors: Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
Animated film; In Spanish, with English subtitles


The film follows the tumultuous love affair of Chico Valdes and Rita Martines. Chico, a gifted pianist and songwriter, and Rita, a sultry singer, met in 1940s Havana, Cuba. They fell in love with each other and dreamed of making it big in New York. But things were what they seemed. And the encounters, betrayals, false hopes, and some other things that tested their fate were as playful and tormenting as bolero.

Despite its being an animated film, Chico & Rita captured effectively in its cinematography the Havana, New York, and Las Vegas milieu during the time when jazz conquered the live music industry of such places. The film itself soothing to the eyes and its music is soothing to the ears.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 13, 2013

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Movie No. 174 (2013): SWEET MUD

Sweet Mud (Adama Meshuga'at) (2006)
Director: Dror Shaul
Cast: Tomer Steinhof, Runit Yudkevitch
In Hebrew and French, with English subtitles


A young boy growing up in a progressive kibbutz has to deal with his emotionally unstable mother, developing a crush on a girl his age, and some ugly things he discovers about some people who populate the kibbutz. Conflict arises when his mother invites her Swiss boyfriend whom she met while being rehabilitated in a mental asylum. It's so clever for the script to use the copulating of unleashed dogs and the death of one as an excuse to ostracize the couple, resulting in the Swiss leaving the boy's mother. A plan to escape results in the discovery of a dirty secret that will change the lives of the young boy, his mother, and the girl that the boy has a crush on.  

The film is a typical coming of age story, only this time it's set in a kibbutz system. Mental illness, conformity, and and culture are the center around which the story revolves. Watching it feels like being thrown into a completely different world. The film is practically perfectly acted. The cinematography captures the milieu very effectively. This a must-see for anyone who's interested in world cinema.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 12, 2013

Movie No. 173 (2013): I'M SO EXCITED

I'm So Excited (2013)
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Javier Camara,Cecilia Roth, Paz Vega
In Spanish, with English subtitles


In this film, a flight from Spain to Mexico faces a serious technical problem more than an hour after takeoff. To keep the passengers from panic, the crew drugged the passengers in the economy class to sleep. But in the business class section and cockpit, something else is happening, while the plane is flying in circles in the skies just above Toledo, in Spain. This as an Almodovar film, so an outrageous comedy can happen even in the most dire circumstances. Put a bisexual pilot, a confused co-pilot, an almost all-gay crew, an assassin, a swindler, an old-maid with psychic powers and who's a self-confessed virgin, an ageing porn star, a two-timing actor, and a newly wed in a cabin, and they'll do things that can only happen in dreams just to ignore their fears.

The film, as expected is wacky, irreverent, and grotesque. But, in my opinion this film is so inferior compared to other Almodovar films that I saw in the past. Screenplay is horrible. One liners are so forced and pretentious. Production design also fails in that it doesn't give the audience the feel that the goings on in the movie take place on the plane. This actually looks cheap and so slapstick despite its entertainment value.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: October 12, 2013

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Movie No. 172 (2013): SIN NOMBRE

Sin Nombre (2009)
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Cast: Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan
In Spanish, with English subtitles

The film tells the tragic story of two teenagers who meet by chance while in transit to illegally immigrate to US from North America. Sayra is a teenager from Honduras who's just been reunited with his father, who will take her to his new family in New Jersey. On their way to immigrate to US, they will chance upon Willy, a teenager from Tapacula, Mexico, who's in trouble with a notorious gang. Together, they plan to cross the border, but members of the notorious gang won't stop until they get Willy, dead or alive.

It's part gangster movie. It's part adventure. It's part road movie. But, in every inch, it's a tragedy. The semi-documentary feel of the movie makes it insightful and worth-watching.

Rating" 4.0/4.0

Date seen: October 5, 2013

Movie No. 171 (2013): HEARTBREAKER

Heartbreaker (2010)
Director: Pascal Chaumeil
Cast: Romain Duris, Vanessa Paradis, Andrew Lincoln
In French, with English subtitles


This is romantic comedy, and it's a real fun seeing it. This is one of the few movies of this genre that I really enjoyed. Andrew Lincoln of The Walking Dead is here.

The movie is about a rugged happy-go-lucky who earns a living by breaking up relationships. He claims that he breaks couple not anybody's heart, so he only gets himself involved in cases where the girl is unhappy. His method: seduction. The conflict comes when, in one major assignment, it's his heart that's threatened to be broken. Call it occupational hazard. But, will he allow it? This is where the movie gets funny and tricky. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: October 5, 2013

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Movie No. 170 (2013): CATERPILLAR

Caterpillar (2010)
Director: Koji Wakamatsu
Cast: Shenobu Terajima, Keigo Kasuya, Emi Masuda
In Japanese, with English subtitles


This is the story of a Japanese soldier and his wife, set during the Sino-Japanese War in 1940. The soldier left their village to defend the country. He returned as an honored and well-decorated soldier, but without limbs. The village puts a pressure on the wife to take care of the her husband, the soldier, as a duty to honor the Emperor and the country.

The film is creepy. A lot of scenes made me uncomfortable watching. I can sense that the film is a direct attack on nationalism (and fascism) the Japanese are known for, specially during war. This film shows the soldier as a vulnerable human being, not as war hero. The photography effectively  captures the 'coldness' of the two major characters in the film.

The film is generally good. But I will not see it again. 

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: September 22, 2013

Movie No. 169 (2013): ANO ANG KULAY NG MGA NAKALIMUTANG PANGARAP?

Ano ang Kulay ng mga Nakalimutang Pangarap? (2013)
Director: Jose Javier Reyes
Cast: Rustica Carpio, Ryan Agoncillo, Jackie Lou Blanco, Bobby Andrews
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

This film reminded me of the passing pain and sadness that I felt while I was watching Vittorio De Sica's Umberto D. That film and this film are so straightforward in depicting how people, when they're old, become disposable.

In this film, three siblings face a dilemma after their mother died. Since all of them live abroad,  they will have to dispose of all the properties they inherited from their mother, including their nanny, Teresa, now an octagenarian. Teresa was their mother's nanny and confidante. She was also the siblings' nanny when they were kids. They inherited the nanny from their (now dead) mother. But the nanny believes that one of the siblings will take her abroad. After all, Teresa had always been regarded as family member.

This is one of the most heartbreaking films I've seen so far. It's heartbreaking without the melodrama. Rustica Carpio's Teresa is easily one of the best portrayals I've seen on screen. I saw characters who really did care but couldn't compromise. At some point, I was quite convinced that the movie was really about the conflicts between the siblings, and Teresa just so happened to be caught in the middle of it. And she would be the only casualty of the conflict.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: September 13, 2013