Monday, November 30, 2015

Movie No. 66 (2015): STA. NINA

Sta. Nina (2012)
Director: Emmanuel Q. Palo
Cast: Coco Martin, Alessandra De Rossi, Anita Linda, Angel Aquino, Irma Adlawan

The film, a finalist in the 2012 Cinemalaya Film Festival, is an examination of faith in a small town that was partly buried under lahar (volcanic emission) a few years ago. Those who chose to remain in the area have learned to pick up the pieces to start their new lives. Pol and Madel lost their two-year-old daughter to meningitis ten years ago. But now, the coffin of the dead child resurfaces in a quarry. The dead child shows no evidence of decomposition. Pol takes his daughter in his house, trying to find explanation why his daughter comes back in preserved state. Soon, the news about the resurgence breaks out and neighbors and diseased people from nearby towns flock to Pol's house hoping for miracle. 

Stubborn Pol has other plans. He believes what he wants to believes, dismissing the advice of the local clergy. Soon, we'll discover the Pol and Madel's past and make sense of Pol's behavior. In my opinion, the resurgence of the dead child is a metaphor that forces Pol and every one connected to him to finally face the demons of their past.

In the middle of the film, I couldn't resist comparing the movie to Himala. But the Bernal film had set a high standard for a film tackling a similar topic and Sta, Nina surely pales in comparison with the classic film. But, Sta. Nina has its strengths and a few to improve on. The direction is competent. Performances are excellent, particularly those of Coco Martin, Alessandra De Rossi, and Irma Adlawan. Coco Martin seem to be most effective when giving life to troubled characters on screen.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 29, 2015


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Movie No. 65 (2015): SEVENTH CODE

Seventh Code (2014)
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Atsuko Maeda, Ryohei Suzuki
In Japanese (and some Russian), with English subtitles

Smitten by a mysterious man called Matsunaga (Ryohei Suzuki), who she met once in Japan, Akiko (Atsuko Maeda) follows him in Vladivoskok, Russia upon knowing he's already there. But, on meeting him again, this time in Russia, he dumps her after treating her for a drink. Stubborn and persistent as she seems to be, she just doesn't give up. She will find him again. Meanwhile, she ends up working in a small Japanese restaurant, while waiting for her luck to find Matsunaga again. She befriends the Chinese waitress who's the girlfriend of the restaurant owner who's also a Japanese.

The movie completely fooled me, but in a nice and surprising way. I was never prepared for the eventual conclusion, although the ending (or final sequence) still remains a mystery. Well, it may just be the way it is. I remember I've been warned as, in one scene, Matsunaga relates to Akiko that she should never trust strangers. So, even the Akiko character, to me, remains a stranger whose secret life I might never know. Come to think of it, all the characters in this movie have no back story. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 29, 2015

Friday, November 20, 2015

Movie No. 64 (2015): TO KILL A MAN

To Kill A Man (a.k.a. Matar A Un Hombre)
Director: Alejandro Fernandez Almendras
Cast: Daniel Candia, Alejandra Yanes, Daniel Antivilo
In Spanish, with English subtitles

A neighborhood bully never stops tormenting an working class man and his family. Fed up with the extent by which the bully torments his family and frustrated with the inefficiency of the judicial and police system from whom he asks help, an the man decides to put the law in his hands. A moral dilemma then ensues. 

The movie is told in a way that tension slowly builds up. Despite this, there's no explosive climax so to say. Just a resolution to conclude the movie.

The movie was Chile's entry to the 87th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 20, 2015

Movie No. 63 (2015): PARADISE NOW

Paradise Now (2005)
Director: Hany Abu-Assad
Cast: Ali Suliman, Kais Nashef
In Arabic, with English subtitles

Winner, 2005 Golden Globes Award for Best Foreign-Language Film. Nominee, 2005 Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film.

I saw the movie in 2006. It was shocking. Now, after the recent Turkey, Beirut, and Paris attacks which, according to the news, involved suicide bombers, I felt some wanting to see the movie again. I remember the movie being so engaging, but I already forgot some details. Anyway, good movies need to be seen again (and again).

The movie takes us closer to the minds of would-be suicide bombers hours before the deed. It's disturbing to see two friends from the West Bank not showing any sign of resistance when they're told they've been chosen for a mission, as suicide bombers, to attack Tel Aviv. These people are not portrayed is violent person. They're like other ordinary people doing ordinary things like the others in their community. Hours before the deed, something goes awry which forces the masterminds of this rite of passage to martyrdom to change plans. It is during this new plan that we really get into the minds of the would-be terrorists (or martyrs). We even get a glimpse of the roots of this "culture." And it's really disturbing. But, even if this thing really happens or even if the story is based on reality, I can't feel hatred toward the "martyrs." I just don't know how to react or feel. It's paralyzing. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 20, 2015

Movie No. 62 (2015): MARY & MAX

Mary & Max (2009)
Director: Adam Elliot
Voice Cast: Toni Colette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana

This stop motion animated film from Australia is about the unlikely friendship between two pen pals, Mary and Max. Mary is a lonely girl from Australia. Max is an elderly man, living with an imaginary friend in his apartment in New York. 

This is one of the most charming, heavily emotional, and heartbreaking (animated) films  I've ever seen. It showcases a different kind of (random) friendship that spans from Mary's adolescence through her adulthood. It effectively captures the psyche of two lonely persons who are separated by great distance. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 19, 2015

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Movie No. 61 (2015): A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)
Director: Roy Andersson
Cast: Holger Andersson, Nils Westblom
In Swedish, with English subtitles

The very first time I saw an event in a scene that appears out of place and illogical, I knew what it surreal. From then, I expected more absurdities. And, indeed, there were absurd and surreal scenes like the stopover of a contingent of medieval soldiers led by a thirsty king in a restaurant, a dance rehearsal that's a challenge to connect to other scenes,the three encounters with death, etc. All these were witnessed by a pair of uninteresting salesmen, both of retiring age, who, in practically all of their scenes, were peddling novelties that they would promote as party necessities. The whole of the film is, indeed, a disconnected reflection of human existence or about being human being. It's like a poetry whose meaning needs to be unearthed from the symbolism of its elements.

If there's one word to describe the film, it's "inventive" or "original."

The film won the Golden Lion Award at the 2014 Venice Film Festival.
Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: November 17, 2016

Monday, November 16, 2015

Movie No. 60 (2015): GETT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSALEM

Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (2014)
Director: Ronit Elkabetz / Shlomi Elkabetz
Cast: Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Abkarian, Menashe Noy
In French, Arabic, and Hebrew with English subtitles

Viviane Amsalem wants a way out of an emotionally-torturing marriage. She files a divorce. The problem is her husband, Elisha, doesn't grant her divorce. And according to the law, the husband's decision is more powerful than the jury, which consists of Rabbi Judges. The trial that ensues is more tortuous than the marriage Viviane wants to get out of.

All the scenes in the movie take place in a small courtroom. The claustrophobic setting seems like a metaphor for inconvenience that the absurd law puts any woman who wants divorce in. The film is direct attack on the chauvinistic nature of the marriage law. It looks like that the law itself is the one that is being tried in this intensely acted movie. The use of close-ups and calculated gestures are effective.

As a movie, Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem can be more thrilling than any Summer blockbusters from Hollywood. The thrill is sustained until the end. This is another testament that mindless blasting, time-consuming chase sequences, and ostentatious display of special effects are not necessary to make a movie that can be entertaining and at the same time does not make the audience feel shortchanged.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 16, 2015

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Movie No. 59 (2015): LOREAK (a.k.a. Flowers)

Loreak (a.k.a. Flowers)
Director: Jose Mari Goenaga / Jon Garano
Cast: Nagore Aramburu, Itziar Itunu, Itziar Aizpuru
In Basque language, with English subtitles

An important scene from the movie "Loreak"
This movie is a subtle romance. It is also about death and remembrance. A subtle hint of intrigue or mystery adds spice to this movie that's intended for the audience who have experienced to be in nearly similar situations. 

The movie is about three headstrong women. However, it's hard to establish the connection of these women during the first 20 or 30 minutes. In the beginning, one of the women regularly receives flowers from an anonymous sender, which makes her feel important at during the particular time when she experiences symptoms of menopause and unhappy marriage. Then there's this toll gate attendant and her mother-in-law. Then an accident and death happen, but there's a twist that makes mourning for the bereaved  a challenge. However, the death offers solution to a mystery, and connections among the women are established. Next scenes are mostly about flowers being brought and laid to the site of the accident. And then the painful conclusion.

I feel that the movie can also make a perfect novel. The use of flowers as metaphor for love, death, or remembrance is carefully explored in the movie. The three lead actors deliver practically perfect performances.

This is Spain's official submission to the Best Foreign Language Film race of 88th Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 15, 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Movie No. 58 (2015): GOODNIGHT MOMMY

Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Director: Severin Fiala / Veronika Franz
Cast: Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Susan Wuest
In German, with English subtitle

How do you make a movie out of an isolated house, identical twins, a divorce, and a plastic surgery? Smells like a horror movie is in the offing. This Austrian movie (Goodnight Mommy) proves it can be made. And it can be made excellently.

The movie is slow; it takes time to develop the characters. But when everything makes sense, one will realize how excellently written the movie is. To say the twist or twists are genius is an understatement. I've seen some good films of similar plots, but this particular movie can still be considered a breath of fresh air. Wow - did I utter expletives when everything made sense, and when I realized I was actually watching a horror film (one that may not be for everyone's liking)? Brilliant.

Everything about this movie is praiseworthy: that cinematography that helps depict deceptive, nightmarish scenes, the tense musical score, and the excellent performances.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: November 8, 2015