Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Movie No. 106 (2014): LOCKE

Locke (2014)
Director: Steven Knight
Cast: Tom Hardy

It happens one night, on the eve of the biggest challenge of his career. On his way home, Locke receives a phone call, one that makes him decide to do a diversion, instead of going straight to home. He makes phone calls; he receives phone calls. Lots of them. We learn what is happening through these phone conversations. And all these take place in one car ride. We see only Locke; all the other characters are just voices on the telephone.

This kind of storytelling is innovative. Tom Hardy's performance is riveting. The movie is an exciting joyride.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 31, 2014

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie No. 105 (2014): THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY

The Two Faces of January (2014)
Director: Hossein Amini
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, Kirsten Dunst

The movie is adapted from a Patricia Highsmith novel. It starts with an American couple, Chester (Viggo Mortensen) and his young wife, Colette (Kisten Dunst), meeting another American, Rydal (Oscar Isaac), who works as a tour guide in the Parthenon in Greece. Rydal befriends the couple. Then an incident at the hotel where the couple stay forces the three to form alliance and puts them on the run. The bond that ties them together, however, is put to test as tension escalates, secrets get uncovered, and unexpected things happen.

The movie is presented in what's called Hitchcockian. The intrigue that sustains the suspense lies heavily on the artful conning and permanent interests of the characters. But the movie's suspense doesn't really reach a boiling point. It only continues to simmer to (almost) dryness. But, that's not entirely a bad thing. In fact, I like the movie. The performances of Viggo Mortensen and Oscar Isaac are competent.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: December 30, 2014

Monday, December 29, 2014

Movie No. 104 (2014): STILL ALICE

Still Alice (2014)
Director: Richard Glatzer,Wash Westmoreland
Cast: Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Boshworth

It's devastating to see an intellectual deteriorate and helplessly give in to Alzheimer's disease. What makes the movie even more painful to watch is Julianne Moore's masterful performance as the afflicted. Julianne Moore is completely lost in Alice, a renowned linguistics professor who suddenly forgets things. It seems like she completely understands the different stages of losing memories and simply gets lost in it. The movie is also an examination of the changing dynamics of relationships in a close-knit family from the onset of the disease to its advanced stage. There are no hysterics. The supporting cast, it seems, really know their respective characters and they're to make the Julianne Moore character the center piece of the movie. It may not be the best movie of the year, but Julianne Moore delivers an unforgettable performance. Kristen Stewart and Alec Baldwin, too.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 29, 2014

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Movie No. 103 (2014): FAIR PLAY

Fair Play (2014)
Director: Andre Sedlackova
Cast: Judit Bardos, Anna Geislerova

This movie is Czech Republic's submission to the Best Foreign Language film competition of the 87th Academy Awards. The movie is a direct commentary on the evils of totalitarian regime; it uses regime's sports training programs as vehicle. The main protagonist is Anna; she trains for the 1984 L.A. Olympics but refuses the special care being offered by the Communist Regime, which in turn uses black mail to get what they want. 

This is well-acted. Both the script and cinematography capture the bleakness of that period in Czech history regardless of whether this movie is purely fiction or based on real events.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 27, 2014

Movie No. 102 (2014): FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC

Flowers in the Attic (2014)
Director: Deborah Chow
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Heather Graham, Mason Dye, Kiernan Shipka

The only good thing about the movie is Ellen Burstyn (as Olivia Foxworth) despite a few times that looks like she's overdoing it. Ellen Burstyn plays as the mother of prodigal daughter (Corrine, played by Heather Graham) who returns to their country estate in Virginia after the death of her husband. The estate's patriarch is dying so Corinne tries to win back the entitlement of the will. But, he shouldn't know she has (four) children. To buy time, and she is forced to let her children secretly live in a room that has a pathway to the attic. This of course is on the suggestion of Olivia. In that secret room, creepy things happen to children, both from the maltreatment of the Olivia and from the non-normal coming-of-age of the children in a cluttered space. 

Neither did I read the novel from which the movie was adapted not did I see the first movie adaptation in late 1980s. From this plot and premise one would expect the children to behave differently in their claustrophobic confinement. But it seems they're enjoying in most scenes. Moments that the two older children show concern and worries are presented in a way too contrived. And that ending left me cold.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: December 27, 2014

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Movie No. 101 (2014): HONEYMOON

Honeymoon (2014)
Director: Leigh Janiak
Cast: Harry Treadaway, Rose Leslie

Newlyweds Paul and Bea travel to a distance vacation house by the lake for their honeymoon. But strange things happen shortly: the couple's unexpected encounter with Bea's childhood acquaintance, the beam of light that seems to survey the house, the dark figures in the forest at night, Bea's somnambulist trip into the woods, etc. And she's distant and acting weird, which gives rise to Paul's paranoia.

The treatment of the movie is tantamount to that of the horror genre. But this is more of the psychological type. You get scared because you don't know what is happening. And you feel creepier when you finally get the answer in the end. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 26, 2014

Friday, December 26, 2014

Movie No. 100 (2104): TANGERINES

Tangerines (a.k.a. Mandariinid) (2013)
Director: Zaza Urushadze
Cast: Lembit Ulfsak, Misha Meskhi, Giorgi Nakashidze, Elmo Nuganen
In Estonian, Georgian, Russian, and Chechen, with English subtitles

This is one of the best films I've seen this year.

The movie is a morality play between to warring soldiers from opposite sides of the infamous conflict of the early 1990s between Georgia and Chechnya, fighting over a piece of land called Abkhazia. The soldiers use words as weapons and their battle field is the house of a tangerine farmer. The two soldiers are survivors of the crossfire that occurred just in front of another farmer's house. The two farmers raise tangerines in the conflict land; they're the only ones left in Abkhazia when all the others have already left for Estonia since the start of the war. Caught in the crossfire, they buried the dead soldiers and nurse and feed the two wounded survivors. These two soldiers agree to a pact that they don't kill each other while inside the house. And this is where the movies gets interesting.

The movie is unexpectedly full of heart and humor, and it never once loses its intensity.  The conflict it presents is resonating, something that's not easily forgotten. I think this movie will stay with me for long time. I even plan to see it in the future once in a while. This is cinema at its best.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 26, 2014

Movie No. 99 (2014): GONE GIRL

Gone Girl (2014)
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris

Nick Dunne reports to the police the disappearance of his wife on the day of their fifth wedding anniversary. The media picks it up and turns the what-should-have-been-just a police matter into a frenzy, adding pressure on the police. But Nick Dunne's behavior, which is not according to what the public expects from a man whose wife is missing, makes him the prime suspect of possibly killing his wife.

The thrill that the movie elicits is effective despite being mechanical and, at times, manipulative. This is that type of movie that will make you finish buckets of popcorn and feel bloated in the end. It's still entertaining despite the excesses and being illogical in some instances. But, Rosamund Pike delivers a performance that's unforgettable.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: December 25, 2014

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Movie No. 98 (2014): PITCH PERFECT

Pitch Perfect (2012)
Director: Jason Moore
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Skylar Astin

The movie follows the formula of the genre. Even the characters (outcast, mean girls/guys, haughty campus figures) are those who we already saw in some similarly-themed movies. It actually feels like an episode of Glee, only with twice the running time. All these said, the movie is not bad. Actually, it's funny and entertaining despite a couple of scenes that are grossly offending. But the covers are awesome.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: December 25, 2014

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Movie No. 97 (2014): THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA

The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2014)
Director: Isao Takahata
An animated film, in Japanese, with English subtitles

The movie is based on a famous Japanese folktale - that of a tiny princess who was found by a bamboo cutter in a bamboo stalk. The soon-to-be princess is raised by the bamboo cutter and his wife; she grows fast and becomes a beautiful lady who enthralls everyone she encounters. They leave the mountain, have a mansion built for the princess using the treasure the cutter has also found from the bamboo stalks. But there's a reason for the princess to be sent on earth, a punishment for a crime.

The movie is like a moving water color sketches, a really moving pictures. Traditional hand-drawn animation still unexpectedly gives sophistication to overall presentation of the movie. The movie reminds me of the playfulness of My Fair Lady, the emotional connection of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the conflict of Crime and Punishment, and the elements of fairy tales.

This is another masterpiece from Studio Ghibli.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 24, 2014

Movie No. 96 (2014): THE NORMAL HEART

The Normal Heart (2014)
Director: Ryan Murphy
Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts, Matt Bomer, Taylor Kitsch, Jim Parsons, Alfred Molina

This TV movie dramatizes gay politics during the early days of AIDS crisis in America or at that period when the so-called gay cancer hadn't had a name yet. While the movie is a work of fiction and the treatment is not without flaw, the performances of the lead and supporting cast are incendiary and the movie's overall point and effect are just as if it's the actual record of this piece of history that once shook the whole world. The movie is centered on the attempts of a gay rights activist, played effectively by Mark Ruffalo, to call the attention of the government on the still unrecognized epidemic, and efforts of the lone medical practitioner supporting the gay movement, played with conviction by Julia Roberts, to study the disease.

The movie is an adaptation of the Tony Award - winning play which has been recently revived on Broadway.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 24, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Movie No. 95 (2014): X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

X-Men Days of Future Past (2014)
Director: Bryan Singer
Cast: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry

The X-Men and their younger selves fight a battle in the two different periods to change the future of their class. Much of the movie's running time is about this war and its genesis. The result is an entertaining showcase of stunts and spectacular special effects that fortunately don't overshadow the intent or purpose of every scene. The excellent editing certainly adds to the cliffhanging effect of the final battle scenes.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 23, 2014

Movie No. 94 (2014): THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING

The Theory of Everything (2014)
Director: James Marsh
Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, David Thewlis, Emily Watson

The movie is Jane Hawking's point of view of her and Stephen Hawking's love story from their chance meeting at Cambridge University, to their marriage, to facing hardships and fame, and to their unusual friendship after their separation.

The best thing about the movie is the well-written lead characters and the excellent interpretation of the characters by the lead actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. Eddie Redmayne completely disappears in the character.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: December 23, 2014


Monday, December 22, 2014

Movie No. 93 (2014): THE BABADOOK

The Babadook (2014)
Director: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

This movie is of the horror genre. I didn't observe a lot of lazy scares, or I they might have just gone unnoticed because the feel of creepiness may have already engulfed me. For me, the most powerful horror movies are those whose horror lies in what is not seen. This is the first time I've seen a well-executed character study in the genre. What makes it more interesting is the idea from which the narrative has been based. The struggles and fear of parenting an impossible child who is difficult to love is the center of this horror movie. The parent is a single mother who still hasn't move on from the tragic death of her husband. Their six-year-old son has vivid imagination and sees monsters in dreams and in waking life. Soon after, the mother also feels then sees a supernatural presence in their house after a book called The Babadook appears in their house.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 21, 2014





Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Movie No. 92 (2014): NIGHTCRAWLER

Nightcrawler (2014)
Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed

Lou Bloom is man desperate for (just) any job who sees an opportunity in scavenging scoops about crime and accidents, recording the footage he records, and selling it to a local LA television news outfit. The movie takes us to night-time LA where car accidents, petty crimes, fire accidents, and just any other kinds of incidents that people might be interested to see during morning news can happen. Lou is determined to make it big in this newly found opportunity. He takes an apprentice, allies with a news veteran, and does the unexpected and unimaginable "innovations" in his night-crawling trips.

The strength of the movie is in its well-written script. We get to know Lou Bloom's character early in the movie, and we know what to expect from him throughout the movie. So, we just expect the details of his dealings and see if there are surprises. The twist in the story and the movie's editing make the movie even more engaging. Jake Gyllenhaal is so good he completely disappears in Lou Bloom.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 9, 2014

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Movie No. 91 (2014): THE DARK VALLEY

The Dark Valley (2014)
Director: Andreas Prochaska
Cast: Sam Riley, Tobias Moretti
In German, with English subtitles

A stranger arrives and pays to stay for the whole winter in the dark valley, a remove village in the Alps. The village folks let him feel he's unwelcome. But the stranger is there for a reason. This is a story of revenge. But what makes the movie unforgettable is how it uses all the elements of great Western films, a Dickensian twist, and stunning cinematography. Revenge is best served cold; it's executed in literal and poetic sense. It all happens during the cold winter and the one hungers for it  is unflinching.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 7, 2014

Movie No. 90 (2014): BOYHOOD

Boyhood (2014)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Lorelei Linklater

The movie is distinct and remarkable  because it's so far the only movie that used the same set of actors during its 12 years of shooting. The movie centers on the turbulent path of childhood or growing up and of challenges of parenting on the point of view of a child growing during the early 2000s to present. This is one movie that doesn't have climax, suspense, and intrigue, but it's main strength is on the narrative itself. And it's definitely a different but rewarding experience seeing an actor grow before our eyes right on the screen. 

Patricia Arquette is a standout.

The movie has just been selected Best Film of the Year (2014) by the New York Film Critics Circle.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: December 7, 2014


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Movie No. 89 (2014): THE VANISHING


The Vanishing (1992)
Director: George Sluizer
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges

When I saw this film for the first time during mid- (or late) 1990s, I knew I was watching a remake of a critically acclaimed Dutch film. That time I hadn't seen the original yet. I seemed to have liked the remake. Years later, I had the chance to see the original; I remembered preferring it to the remake. But, I still liked the remake; it was not bad. After all, the original and the remake have the same director.

Last week, I had the chance to see the remake again on My Movie Channel. It was like watching a new movie because I already forgot most of the scenes and the (minor) deviations from the original movie. Yes, it's (still) about a man who never gives up finding her abducted girlfriend. But, given the standards of a what a suspense film should be, I now find The Vanishing a so-so movie. In fact, the twist in the final scenes looks contrived and agonizing.

I guess, I will see the original movie again.

Rating: 1.5/4.0

Date seen: November 30, 2014