Sunday, March 30, 2014

Movie No. 30 (2014): DISTANCE

Distance (2001)
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Arata, Tadanobu Asano, Yusuke Iseya, Susumu Terajima, Yui Natsukawa
In Japanese, with English subtitles

A businessman, a teenage boy, a teacher, and a young housewife seem like complete strangers who have nothing to say to each other. But each of them has a relative in the cult that committed mass suicide in a lake after sabotaging Tokyo's drinking water plant causing death to more than a hundred and illnesses to thousands. In the beginning of the movie, they're shown going to the lake to pay respect to their relatives. It's the third anniversary of the mass suicide. One of the surviving members of the cult joined them. After paying respect, they discover the car they used to go there and the motorcycle of the surviving cult member are missing. They'll be forced to spend the night in the cabin that where the cult once met.

In the cabin surrounded by darkness, the foursome reflect on the emotional distance of their relatives on the days leading to the incident. The movie uses flashbacks that are all over the place, which is indeed a viewing challenge. I'm not sure if it has a direct effect on the mood that the movie wants the audience to feel. The eventual isolation of the foursome and the surviving cult member (the lake is far from the city, the phone signals are dead, the darkness covering the cabin, etc.) is, in my opinion, symbolic of the emotional distance the perpetrators of the poisoning of drinking water had when they planned the sabotage. The movie is slow but contemplative.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 30, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Movie No. 29 (2014): THE LONG DAY CLOSES

The Long Day Closes (1992)
Director: Terence Davies
Cast: Leigh McCormack, Marjorie Yates

The Long Day Closes is a visual and aural feast. Visual poetry is the more appropriate label for this film since its scenes are not always what they seem despite the snippets that suggest the daily existence of the main character, a melancholic 11-year-old boy who finds solace in the confines of the cinema. 

There is no plot to discuss. But there's masterful use of music. Actually, a lot of it. The cinematography is awesome. I'm not sure if I've seen anything similar to this film. But, what I saw, and what I felt, I liked a lot.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 29, 2014

Movie No. 28 (2014): BOTTLE ROCKET

Bottle Rocket (1996)
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, James Caan

It's funny how ordinary conversations among three friends, who look like ordinary people, will lead to a whimsical desire to commit small-scale robbery, steaming from an elaborate plan. Well, if you're loony with friends who are loonier, that's a possibility. This is basically what triggers the narrative of this crime-comedy flick. 

It's funny. But, I didn't really enjoy it.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: March 29, 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Movie No. 27 (2014): BIG BAD WOLVES

Big Bad Wolves (2013)
Director: Aharon Keshales / Navor Papushado
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Rotem Keinan, Tzahu Grad
In Hebrew, with English subtitles

Think of the Hostel's gore and Tarantino's quirky style. That's how I feel about this movie, which is edgy and intriguing. 

A girl is gone missing. The main suspect is caught, but mishandled by the police, causing him to be freed. The leader of the polices team gets sacked for allowing the suspect to be tortured during extraction to find the whereabouts of the missing girl. He's not convinced the suspect is innocent. Then the headless body of the girl is found, making her father, a former military man, vow for revenge. The dismissed police kidnaps the suspect, but it'll turn out that the (now) dead girl's father kidnaps both the suspect and the dismissed police. And then the drama - the showcase of the evil men do - follows, down to the unexpected conclusion. Or, maybe I was expecting it.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 24, 2014

Book No. 2 (2014): WE NEED NEW NAMES

We Need New Names
Author: NoViolet Bulawayo

In this book, the main character, recounts her coming of age in a poverty-, hunger-, and disease-stricken African country (ironically called Paradise in the book) and, later, in Detroit, Michigan. I find that the African diaspora that we already know is the main topic of this book of fiction, as told on the point of view of the narrator. Reading it halfway, I almost felt that the book was merely a contrived commentary and reportage of things about Africa that I am already familiar with. It's a good thing that the author balanced it with her keen observation, even of the mundane, which she translated into a beautiful prose. I like the way the book use metaphors that suggest disillusion, failure, etc. That ending paragraph is one that I can't forget.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Date read: March 20, 2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Movie No. 26 (2014): HELI

Heli (2013)
Director: Amat Escalante
Cast: Armando Espitia, Juan Eduardo Palacio, Linda Gonzales, Andrea Vergara
In Spanish, with English subtitles

The film centers on the family of Heli, a blue-collar worker in an automotive factory, as they live and dream in the midst of violence and criminality threatening to engulf their community somewhere in Mexico. One false move, where Heli's sister Estela, who's a minor, attempts to run away with her secret lover, a young and ambitious police intern, leads to tragedy. 

The film is not for the squeamish. The so-called "shock factor" ingredient of the movie is certainly not contrived; rather, it just strengthens the notion of unthinkable random evil that goes with criminality. Maybe, that's the reason Amat Escalante was awarded the Best Director prize in last year's Cannes Film Festival.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 12, 2014

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Movie No. 25 (2014): BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN

Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Director: Sergei Eisenstein
Silent film, with intertitles


The copy of the film is not in best condition but it's watchable. People have been singling out the pioneering montage editing as the best thing about the film. So, that's the montage editing. It's very clever and artistic. It's integral to the perceived genius of the film. That scene at the Odessa steps has already gone down in the history of cinema, or of arts in general. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: March 9, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

Movie No. 24 (2014): SUMMER HOURS

Summer Hours (2008)
Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Charles Berling, Jeremie Renier
In French, with English subtitles

It looks like the protagonists in this film are objects, certainly future museum pieces, and, more specifically, the country house, that a sister and her two brothers will try to sell when their mother dies. Not one of the siblings is sure to take care of the house because one of them already lives in New York, the other in China, and the other in Paris. And the consequence of having drifted away from each other is the disappearance of their childhood memories. 

This film is heavy on dialogue and nuances, which makes it memorable. It's so contemporary and universal. The subtle performances are so strong that it's impossible to remain unaffected.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: March 9, 2014

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Movie No. 23 (2014): ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)
Director: Werner Herzog

In this breathtaking documentary, Herzog takes us to a place that is "off the map" - the National Science Foundation's McMurdo station in Antarctica. The films gives the audience a peek at the awesome winter and nightless landscapes of the place and the sense of community of the few people living there.

The film is truly enthralling, baffling, poetic and out of this world! 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 9. 2014

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book No. 1 (2014): WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

We Need To Talk About Kevin
Author: Lionel Shriver

Eva was tentative about having a child and motherhood. She did have two children, anyway. Kevin, her eldest son, committed mass murder a few months before turning 16. Now, two years after, she opens the 'black box' and tries to analyze what happened and comes into terms with marriage and parenthood gone awry.

By it's theme alone, the book is truly disturbing which is the reason it took me months to finally finish reading it. There were several instances that I decided to not finish it. The family's dysfunction is written in ever page. Even as of this writing, a day after I finished the book, some disturbing images still linger in my head. But, the book is a good piece of literature. It invites discussion.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Date read: March 3, 2014