Sunday, July 31, 2016

Movie No. 49 (2016): ARIEL

Ariel (1988)
Director: Aki Kaurismaki
Cast: Turo Pajala, Susanna Haavisto, Matti Pellonpaa
In Finnish, with English subtitles

It is typical for any man to plan his future on a clean slate after a series of failures and bad luck. In the case of Taito, a Finnish miner, he has to leave the town after the closing of the mine and his father's suicide. He meets a woman; he decides to be with her forever. But luck is still not on his side when he gets framed for a crime. Together with his cellmate, he plans to escape and start a new life outside Europe. But things do not go as planned. 

The movie is bleak, with dry humor. It's told in a way as if a stranger is telling the story to you just  matter-of-factly. It is subtle; there is not much detail. The long takes contribute to setting the mood of such scenes. Some bleak scenes are cool. And there are no hysterics even in one death scene.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: July 31, 2016

Movie No. 48 (2016): NO WAY OUT

No Way Out (1987)
Director: Roger Donaldson
Cast: Kevin Costner, Gene Hackman, Will Patton, Sean Young

No Way Out is the quintessential thriller Hitchcock style. It's complete with all necessary ingredients to make an effective character-driver thriller - a wrongfully accused man, betrayal, the simultaneous use of different suspense-building devices, chase scenes, and the jaw-dropping twist in the end. The performances also contribute to the movie's greatness. 

Rating:  4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 31, 2016

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Movie No. 47 (2016): THE CLAN (aka El Clan)

The Clan (2015)
Director: Pablo Trapero
Cast: Guillermo Francella, Peter Lanzani
In Spanish, with English subtitles

The movie presents a story that has been based on actual events. The focus of the story is the Puccio family which appears as a normal Buenos Aires family. The matriarch is a school teacher. Alex, one of the children, is a star rugby player. One of the daughters is a teacher, too. The two others are students. There's another one who lives in New Zealand. The patriarch (Archimedes) is into the business of kidnapping people of their class for ransom. At the backdrop is the military dictatorship that rules the nation (Argentina), which responsible for the disappearance of the dictatorship's political opponents. 

Some of the Puccio's family members are aware of the "business," some don't, some even take part in the crime. Archimedes is a good father and husband, and a good provider for the family. This is central theme of this examination of banality of evil. The family is far from being dysfunctional, which makes the movie even more disturbing and wrenching. 

Despite the theme, the movie succeeds also as an entertaining piece. The movie is achievement in direction and editing.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 30, 2016

Movie No. 46 (2016): THE DEAD GIRL

The Dead Girl (2006)
Director: Karen Moncrieff
Cast: Toni Colette, Giovanni Ribisi, Rose Byrne, James Franco, Marcia Gay Harden, Kerry Washington, Josh Brolin, Brittany Murphy

In this movie, a murdered girl is the intersection of five seemingly unrelated stories presented in different chapters. The movie is interesting as it presents different stories that give the audience the circumstances that lead to the murder. Like in real life, all murders that we hear on the news are the same - there's the victim and, for sure, the murderer. Normally, we are not interested on just wanting to know who the murderer is. We are more interested in how it happened and in why it happened. The movie gives us these. 

The narrative structure, while not novel, is effective in sustaining suspense and intrigue. Each chapter is excellently executed. Several performances, though short, stand out.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: July 30, 2016

Monday, July 25, 2016

Movie No. 45 (2016): THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE

The Consequences of Love (2004)
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Tito Servillo, Olivia Magnani
In Italian, with English subtitles

At first I thought the movie was an examination of loneliness, which was no problem for me because I found movies about meditations about human existence very interesting. 

Initially, we see Titta (Tito Servillo) as someone who is practically aloof. In the morning he's into crossword puzzle; at night he's into card games with a bankrupt couple, his neighbor in the hotel where he has been staying for eight years. He frequents a bar, staying at the same spot, avoiding conversation or even eye contact with any other people inside the bar, including the barmaid (Sofia) who has been working there for two years. 

His existence is mysterious. Once a week he receives a delivery from a mysterious woman - a bag full of money, which he brings to a Swiss bank. This is where the movie gets interesting. Slowly we get to know his secret, then about his past, and it's quite disturbing. The rest of the movie has something to do with this. The movie has interesting characters that make us know Titta better. And it helps to have a total appreciation of the film. It's use of musical score is superb. 

Why is the movie called "The Consequences of Love"? Well, you have to watch it until the heartbreaking finale.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 25, 2016

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Movie No. 44 (2016): REMEMBER

Remember (2015)
Director: Atom Egoyan
Cast: Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz

The plot is interesting. An Auschwitz survivor, now living in America, goes cross country on a mission to find the Nazi who killed his family. The problem is he has dementia. With him in tow is a letter written for him by a fellow survivor which reminds him of his mission and about the fact that his wife is already dead. Another complication is the fact that there are four persons who bear the same name and age as the Nazi he's looking for.

Watching the movie is like watching a minor Hitchcock film on the basis of the plot, execution, and even the musical score. It really brings thrill and suspense. The finale is unforgettable.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: July 24, 2016

Movie No. 43 (2016): THEM (aka ILS)

Them (aka Ils) (2006)
Director: David Moreau, Xavier Palud
Cast: Olivia Bonamy, Michael Cohen
In French and Romanian, with English subtitles

The movie is disturbing. But, just because it's disturbing doesn't make the movie bad. In fact, as horror movie, Them really delivers terror expected from the genre. What makes the movie really terrifying is that it's based on real events. 

Another thing: when there are no supernatural forces or elements in the story, the movie becomes even scarier.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 24, 2016



Saturday, July 23, 2016

Movie No. 42 (2016): ASHES OF TIME

Ashes of Time (1994)
Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Cast: Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung
In Chinese (Cantonese), with English subtitles


The movie is centered on a  greedy but lovelorn assassin who finds solace in a hut in the middle of the desert. The he meets different characters who pass by who will shake the comfort of his self-imposed exile. There's this blind swordsman who he convinces to carry out his contract killings. There's this girl who offers him eggs and a mule to kill hes lover's killer. There's another bounty hunter he feeds before offering him a "contract." The dealings and execution of "contracts" lead them into discovering the secret of true love. 

The movie is a visual feast, like a poetry in pictures. Practically every frame is worth preserving in a canvass. That's exquisite cinematography. Some frames are even enhance by the equally poetic voice-over narration of the lead character. The flashbacks, although dizzying in some instances, help are integral in understanding the back stories of the characters. The movie itself says significant things about human existence, highlighting love, purpose, loneliness, redemption, and existence.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 23, 2016

Movie No. 41 (2016): EVERYDAY I LOVE YOU

Everyday I Love You (2015)
Director: Mae Cruz Alviar
Director: Enrique Gil, Liza Soberano, Gerald Anderson, Aiko Melendez, Liza Lorena, Carmina Villarroel, Ariel Rivera

Sunday afternoons are my chance to see on TV (mostly) blockbuster local films that I never had a chance to see on the big screen. Whenever I'm home and have nothing to do, I tune in to ABS CBN. Last Sunday (July 17), Everyday I Love You was featured. So, I took some (imaginary) popcorn and prepared to (just) enjoy.

The film was glossy, which is expected for any romance movies made for die-hard fans. Was I entertained? Maybe. Maybe not. Although I didn't have much expectations for this kind of movie whose ulterior objective was to rake in money at the box office, I couldn't control my fastidious biases and concerns about the things that make the movie a complete experience. Despite some well-composed shots, there is nothing more that the movie can offer. Watching this movie, I was reminded of "While You Were Sleeping," a movie I saw more than two decades ago. I don't remember the details of that movie, but I remember liking it during the only time I saw it. "Everyday I Love You," however, is forgettable. The parade of contrivances are irritating. The performances of the lead characters are amateurish, or worse than that.

Rating: 0.5/4.0

Date seen: July 17, 2016

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Movie No. 40 (2016): DIFRET

Difret (2015)
Director: Zeresenay Berhane Mehari
Cast: Tizita Hagere, Meron Getnet
In Amharic, with English subtitles

Gripping and entertaining, the movie is an insightful examination of an oppressive tradition and its obsolescence. In the movie, a fifth-grade,14-year-old girl (Hirut) in a rural village in Ethiopia is on trial for defending herself against her abductor who beat and raped her. According to the village's tradition, a man can abduct the girl he wants to marry. With the help of the man's would-be best men, Hirut gets abducted while on her way home from school, gets beaten and raped by the man who wants to marry her, but gets a chance to escape with the man's rifle. The men run after her but she kills her abductor. Now the village people want her dead because that's according to tradition. The police places her in custody. The village court decides that Hirut be banished from the village instead of death sentence. 

Then a lawyer (Meaza) who works for a non-government organization that champions against women and child violence comes to Hirut's rescue. Meaza knows that she is battling against tradition and oppressive justice system. The centerpiece of the movie is the unfolding of a narrative that is like a court procedural. There is never a lull moment in the movie. From start to finish, the movie is stirring.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 17, 2016

Movie No. 39 (2016): LION'S DEN (aka Leonera)

Lion's Den (aka Leonera) (2008)
Director: Pablo Trapero
Cast: Martina Gusman, Elli Medeiros, Rodrigo Santoro
In Spanish, with English subtitles

Julia, a college student finds herself in prison after being accused of murdering her lover. Because of her condition, she is "thrown" into the special section of the women's penitentiary called the "lion's den," where pregnant inmates and those who are with children of age below four years are being incarcerated. Then we see conflicts concerning motherhood after Julia has delivered her son Tomas.

This is a prison movie. But, what makes the movie better than some movies of the genre is the narrative's focus on the characters. The cinematography is successful in making the audience feel claustrophobic and locked up as the characters feel and, at the same time, experience the "little freedom" of the inmates' children as they play in the makeshift playground provided for them inside the facilities. The lead actor (Martina Gusman) gives a competent performance. The uplifting opening song by children in the background of the opening credits and the final scene are some of the important uplifting moments in the otherwise bleak film.

This film competed for Palm D'Or at Festival De Cannes in 2008.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: July 17, 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Movie No. 38 (2016): THE BIG SHORT

The Big Short (2015)
Director: Adam McKay
Cast: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt

The subject matter is difficult because not everyone understands how the mortgage industry operates. But, the screenplay sees to it that enough details about how it works makes the narrative easy to follow. So, the villains in this scandal are presented without masks. 

If the basis of the story were not from real events, it would be hard to believe the things I saw on screen, or some funny situations would look contrived. The fact that this really happened sends chills to the spine. 

This film was a Best Picture nominee in the 88th Academy Awards. It was Producers Guild Awards choice for Best Motion Picture for films exhibited in 2015.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 16, 2016

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Movie No. 37 (2016): THE HOLE

The Hole (1998)
Director: Tsai Ming-Liang
Cast: Lee Kang-Sheng, Yang Kuei-Mei
In Mandarin and Taiwanese, with English subtitles

An examination of alienation with not much attention to the characters' psyche, The Hole is also a movie about connection. The non-attention to the characters' psyche I guess is part of the plan. The audience should not and will not intrude the characters' self-imposed exile in loneliness. 

The film begins with the unnamed lady tenant in a housing facility in Taipei commissioning a plumber to take a look at some piping issues at the apartment directly above hers. The apartment above hers is occupied by who a man who tends a grocery in a practically abandoned public market facilities. The two tenants are unaware of each other's existence. But, the irresponsible plumber leaves a hole on the grocer's floor, which is the lady tenant's ceiling. This hole becomes a source of tension between the two tenants. Adding complication to the situation is the rain that never stops from the start of the movie's running the end. The rain, seen and heard literally throughout the movie, suggests claustrophobia and trap. I say trap because the backdrop of the movie is the outbreak of a virus in Taipei that makes the infected exhibit roach-like behavior. The housing facility is a quarantine; the government, however, advises the tenants to evacuate the facilities and stay temporarily in a government-provided shelter. To force the tenants to leave, the city government has discontinued and threatens to cut the water supply on January 1, 2000, which is only a few days away.

The movie is bleak with occasional humor, but the occasional musical number, presented as something that happens only in the head of the lady tenant, is well-placed to suggest a dichotomy.

The movie deserves to be seen by anyone who loves cinema.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 6, 2016

Movie No. 36 (2016): TIMECRIMES

Timecrimes (2007)
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernandez, Nacho Vigalondo
In Spanish, with English subtitles

This movie begins with Hector leisurely surveying the trees, using a binocular, in the nearby hillside their new house as her wife prepares to leave for a short trip to the grocery.  He stumbles upon something of interest, hikes into the trees to satisfy his curiosity, and gets attacked by a mysterious man. Fleeing, he stumbles upon a laboratory, meets a man who persuades him to "hide" in a time machine. Reluctantly, he travels to the past - but only to 1 hour earlier. 

I have to leave it here. 

But, the movie, just like any other movies on time travel, suggests that when you meddle with space-time continuous, there will be consequences like people getting hurt. Something to do with this suggestion the most shocking twist in the movie. The movie, however, is easy to follow, which another major feat of the movie. Sometimes, movies of this kind don't need to be so much mind-boggling that you get lost along the way. 

This is one of the best science fiction films I've seen so far.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 6, 2016



Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Movie No. 35 (2016): THEEB

Theeb (2015)
Director: Naji Abu Nowar
Cast: Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat, Hussein Salameh Al-Sweilhiyeen
In Arabic, with English subtitles

Set during the historic war against the Ottoman Turks, the movie follows the adventure of Theeb, a prepubescent boy, who is the youngest in  an orphaned family of guides in an isolated Bedouin community in the desert. Theeb comes of age in the desert when he follows his brother who agrees to guide an Englishman and his Arab sidekick to a well near the Ottoman train tracks. But, tragedy meets the group; Theeb finds himself alone in the unforgiving desert. The rest of the movie follows his rite of passage to survival.

The movie depicts the desert as both naturally beautiful but dangerous and Theeb as a young innocent boy who has animal's cunning instinct to survival. The occasional accent of necessary sound effects and score are well-placed. 

Seeing the movie is a rare and unforgettable experience.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 5, 2016


Monday, July 4, 2016

Movie No. 34 (2016): TAPE

Tape (2001)
Director: Richard Linklater
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, Uma Thurman

Inside a motel room, Vince, his ex-girlfriend, Amy, and his friend John reunite after 10 years. They were high school friends. That room is the only set the movie used. The movie's narrative relies on conversation - first, with Vince and John, then with the three of them. Something happened 10 years ago; each one of them has a different point about what happened. Plus, there's a taped confession about what happened. 

The movie has no musical score. The camera is obviously hand-held. The dialogues are the best part of the film. It was used to its full extend to make the story-telling flow with ease. 

Brilliant.

The movie was based on a Play by Stephen Belber, who also the screenplay.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 4, 2016


Sunday, July 3, 2016

Movie No. 33 (2016): THE TWILIGHT SAMURAI

The Twilight Samurai (2004)
Director: Yoji Yamada
Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa
In Japanese, with English subtitles

The daughter of a low-level samurai narrates her father's story during the waning years of the Edo Era. During these years when master-less samurais wander, Seibei, now a widower, raises her two daughters and takes care of his senile mother in one roof. He works as errand boy for the clan for a meager stipend. His seemingly simple living gets shaken when he learns about his childhood friend's divorce from an abusive husband. Then comes the clan's task for him that he's hesitant to do - to kill a fellow samurai.

Is it just I who thinks this movie is one that can be in the line-up of Father's Day movies? The sacrifices and dedication of a father to his family are clear to be major components of the major story lines, the other story lines being about the way of the samurai during the unfortunate period and the romantic link between Seibei and his childhood friend.

This film captures the rustic milieu beautifully, which enhances the film's "personality." It  is so gentle despite a few instances of violence. The narrative flows with ease and there are no fancy editing tricks. The lead actor is really into character.

The film was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category of Academy Awards in 2005.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 3, 2016

Friday, July 1, 2016

Movie No. 32 (2016): GOODFELLAS

GoodFellas (1990)
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Paul Sorvino

This is the first time I've seen the film from start to finish. It blew me away.

This is the story of Henry Hill, who always wanted to be a gangster as far back as he could remember. The film show how he became a gangster, starting as teenager to mastering the trade with the help of alliances he makes along the way to his betraying his friends in the mafia. It's quite a journey. Martin Scorsese presents the story in a fluid narrative suffused with intoxicating soundtrack. It's mostly Henry Hill's point of view. His wife, Karen Hill, has occasional narration of her side of the story.

In this kind of movie, violence is inevitable. There's a lot of it, sometimes between dialogues. I think that's what makes this movie a real treat. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 1, 2016