Sunday, August 20, 2017

Movie No. 54 (2017): ATTRACTION (aka Prityazhenie)

Attraction (aka Prityazhenie) (2017)
Director: Fedor Bondarchuk
Cast: Irina Starshenbaum, Alexander Petrov, Rinal Mukhametov
In Russian, with English subtitles

The premise in not novel - a flying object from another world falls into Earth, in Moscow. Naturally, we expect it will bring chaos to the local community. Chaos do happen before our eyes. But the good thing about the movie the way it injects into the narrative mankind's questioning the existence of higher beings from another planet, which is caused by this recent "attraction." Then there's unusual romance (or attraction) that brews between a human and an alien being. Interesting. All the characters are integral to the story.

Allegory or not, the movie is powerful. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: August 19, 2017

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Movie No. 53 (2017): TU PUG IMATUY

Tu Pug Imatuy (The Right To Kill) (2017)
Director: Arnel Barbarona
Cast: Malona Sulatan, Jong Mozon, Luis Georlin Banaag III, Jamee Rivera
In Lumad dialect, with English subtitles

Tu Pug Imatuy was this the big winner at the Sinag Maynila film festival early this year.

The movie started (almost) as a semi-documentary, which worked well for me since my knowledge about the Lumads and their culture is scant. The few scenes that suggested the simple living in isolation were enough. Then came the conflict - the militarization of their ancestral lands. On the side, there's the communist rebels. The Lumads were caught in the middle. The ugliest forms of injustice were committed against them and their basic human rights violated. 

The narrative is straightforward. Poetically composed cinematography complements the narrative. Raw, but great acting by the lead actress makes the movie unforgettable.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 7, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Ang Pamilyang Hindi Lumuluha (2017)
Director: Mes De Guzman
Cast: Sharon Cuneta, Nino Muhlach, Moi Bien, Kiko Matos
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Let me just go straight to my observations.

As a comedy, the movie has unexpected charms until the last quarter, when the narrative make a sudden diversion to irritating melodrama. Sharon does well in a role that's far and different from what she used to be doing. It's so unfair to her for she really delivers despite the flaws in her character. 

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: August 11, 2017

Movie No. 51 (2017): RESPETO

Respeto (2017)
Director: Treb Monteras
Cast: Abra, Dido Dela Paz
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Rap is a relatively new genre of music. If this is the case, the Respeto qualifies as a musical-drama. What makes the movie even more interesting is the premise: "a young wannabe rapper meets a poet of the Martial Law Era." 

The movie is brave to tackle a story that may be inspired by snippets of tales taken straight from the evening news at one particular phase of our country's recent history. The rapper and the poet share same interest and love for verse. I guess the rapper's love for rhyme is to escape the bleak reality - he lives with his sister whose boyfriend is a drug dealer. He occasionally works as runner for his sister's boyfriend. The threat of demolition of their shanty is part of his everyday existence. Then he commits a petty crime that leads him to meet the poet. The poet writes verse as catharsis and commentary to that bleak phase of our country's history. Both the rapper and the poet are witnesses of injustice and impunity. 

I expected for a "hopeful" resolution despite the bleakness. But it didn't happen. The cycle, instead, would go on. That final shot, though, was great. I heard sighs in the darkness of the theater. Wonderful. I didn't see the ending that I expected. But the one I saw seemed fit. Then a few pair of hands started a slow clap as the end credits rolled up. A few seconds later, the sound of applause was deafening. What a movie!

Respeto might just this year's dark horse. Abra and Dido Dela Paz are so good.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 9, 2017

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Movie No. 50 (2017): KIKO BOKSINGERO

Kiko Boksingero (2017)
Director: Thop Nazareno
Cast: Noel Comia Jr., Yul Servo, Yayo Aguila
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Kiko (Noel Comia Jr.) is left under the care of his dedicated Nanny (Yayo Aguila) when her ailing mother died. In a picturesque neighborhood in Baguio City, Kiko is tied to an everyday routine, though aimless, while waiting for his relatives in US to adopt him. Then he tries to break the routine by frequenting an abandoned house with makeshift boxing implement after school, which his nanny would notice because he returns home later than usual. The empty house happens to be be his estranged father's. For an undisclosed reason, other than selling the house, George (Yul Servo), returns to Baguio. Father and son bond.

Kiko Boksingero is a charming and sensitive coming-of-age movie. It's pure cinema, with the hysterics and unnecessary melodrama and twists. In fact, it is plotless. It is told in a way plain and simple. Noel Comia Jr.'s believable and truly-affecting performance make the movie memorable. Scenes showing father and son bonding, although tentative in some instances, are unpretentious and sublime. Yul Servo and Yayo Aguila's supporting performances complements Comia's sensitive portrayal of Kiko.

In my opinion, this is the best movie in this year's batch of Cinemalaya movies in competition.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 9, 2017

Movie No. 49 (2017): BAGAHE

Bagahe (2017)
Director: Zig Dulay
Cast: Angeli Bayani, Arnold Reyes, Boots Anson-Roa, Bing Pimentel, Raquel Villavicencio
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

The movie almost appeared like an instructional video for medical and criminology students. While Angeli Bayani gives a terrific lead performance, her character is underwritten. The other women characters, are practically caricatures that, sometimes, look silly. 

It's painfully boring. 

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: August 5, 2017

Movie No. 48 (2017): NABUBULOK

Nabubulok (2017)
Director: Sonny Calvento
Cast: Gina Alajar, Lito Pimentel, JC Santos, Jameson Blake, Billy Ray Gallion
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

The wife of a neighbor has been missing. The American husband and his children don't seem to care, at least on the point of view of the nosy neighbors. An unbearable stench emanates from the gated abode of the American's family. The American and and his children seem to be unmindful of the smell. And so the intrigue begins.

The narrative is heavily anchored on what the nosy neighbors have to say, their theories and biases. Gina Alajar stands out as a nosy neighbor and a common citizen who's disappointed of the law enforcement authorities. Her character happens to be the cousin of the missing woman. Then comes the intervention of the authorities, which leads to more questions than answers. Then the enigmatic final scene.

The movie is escapist. It's not bad. It's not excellent either. It falters in its attempt to justify the titular suggestion. Nabubulok literally means decaying. It may be pertaining to the deterioration sense of family, or the metaphor of family house in advanced state of decay, or to the law enforcement. It could have been brilliant if the story dag deeper, instead of a cat-scratch attention paid to it.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: August 5, 2017

Friday, August 11, 2017

Movie No. 47 (2017): BACONAUA

Baconaua (2017)
Director: Joseph Israel Laban
Cast: Elora Espano, Therese Malvar, Jess Mendoza, Erlinda Villaobos, Bembol Roco
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

Baconaua is sea sea serpent. The title brings some mysticism in a remote island where inhabitants believe that when their neighbors disappeared in the sea during a squall, the sea serpent claim might have claimed them. Focus of the story is three siblings whose father hadn't been found after the squall one fateful night. The siblings are still hopeful their father would return and that they couldn't join their neighbors in the (beautifully shot) funeral rites in the sea for their missing relatives. 

The film is bleak and everywhere seems to dark even in daylight. Cinematography is competent although the movie appears like it's more concerned to make the movie visually stunning that pay attention to the continuity and missteps in the narrative. The appearance of a thousand apples on the shore and beaches is poetic. The subplot that may or may not be a homage to Great Expectations is a welcome flash of genius. But this intrusion into the otherwise bucolic and sometimes mystical island town is somehow contrived. The national anthem played in two different languages on separate occasion is another contrivance. But despite all these complaints, some of the actors are able to give good performances.

Rating: 2.0/4.0

Date seen: August 5, 2017


Sa Gabing Nanahimik Ang Mga Kuliglig (2017)
Director: Iar Lionel Arondaing
Cast: Angel Aquino, Ricky Davao, Jess Mendoza, Mercedes Cabral
In Tagalog, with English subtitles

One fateful night, as a small close-knit community do some Lent rituals, a woman confesses to the town's priest about a crime she has just committed. But, the altar boy accidentally hears the confession, too. Now, the priest and the altar boy face a dilemma. Will they protect the Seal of Confessional or follow the law? Both know the woman and the other personalities involved in the crime. Hence, the title.

I'm not going into the details of the narrative. I love a lot things about the movie. For a movie made with a tight budget for six days, Sa Gabing Nanahimik Ang Mga Kuliglig is unexpectedly good and almost perfectly polished. Using a square frame is a good decision for it gives the feel of a classic European cinema. Cinematography, particularly in night scenes, is sublime. Some shots are Tarkovskian. The ensemble acting is really praise-worthy.

This is easily one of the (few) best films of Cinemalaya 2017.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: August 5, 2017

Movie No. 45 (2017): REQUITED

Requited (2017)
Director: Nerissa Picadizo
Cast: Jake Cuenca, Anna Luna

One random day, Matt decides to bike all the way to Mt. Pinatubo. At some point along the way, Sandy shows up in full gears and joins Matt. The moment she appears and in many instances along the way, the two argue on a lot of things, some petty. From the almost incessant bickering we learn some things about the two characters. Fine. But, the build up is quite slow for a film with a relatively short running time for a feature film. Fine. Then something I totally don't expect happens. Interesting. But, it's downhill from there. Maddening. It looks like like the writer and director don't know what to do next. The ending is a mess. Some random episodes of local drama anthology on local television are much better than Requited.

Jake Cuenca as an ailing architect is believable only in scenes he's biking through some difficult trails. Partly, I'm blaming the what appears like underdeveloped character. I'm not convinced that Anna Luna is a volleyball superstar, although she's good in most dramatic scenes. The only good thing about the movie is the cinematography.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: August 5, 2017

Movie No. 44 (2017): CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

Captain Fantastic (2016)
Director: Matt Ross
Cast: Viggo Mortensen

A family lives in isolation in their self-created "paradise" in the forests of Pacific Northwest. The father is devoted but controlling. A mother figure's absence is conspicuous. Then a news of a tragedy shakes the otherwise "ideal" family living. The father and his six children must temporarily leave the paradise and take a journey into the outside world. And so begins the character study.

Viggo Mortensen as the titular father figure has a strong presence in practically every scene he's in. That's a remarkable feat, playing as the controlling father. His strong performance is most noticeable. The movie brings to mind Peter Weir's The Mosquito Coast. While, in my opinion, Peter Weir's movie is the better movie, Captain Fantastic offers some fresh insights, particularly on challenges of parenting. Matt Ross seems to be in control except form a few but important scenes. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: July 29, 2017

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Movie No. 43 (2017): KITA KITA

Kita Kita (2017)
Director: Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo
CastL Alessandra De Rossi, Empoy Marquez
In Tagalog with occasional Japanese, with English subtitles

Lea's blindness is psychologically triggered by the stress caused by her fiance's infidelity and shattered wedding plan. Living afflicted and alone in a small apartment in Sapporo, she is forced to deal with Tonyo who lives across the street. Tony appears everyday in her apartment's front garden offering Filipino foods, his friendship, and to be her eyes. I'll end it here.

The movie is far from being perfect. Original? It's not. You've seen the narrative structure before in other movies. Therefore, not much novelty.

Why do a lot of people like it?

Here's my opinion.

Lea and Tonyo are an odd couple. So are Alessandra De Rossi and Empoy Marquez. I suppose, the script came first before the actors were chosen. I don't know how they decided that Lea and Tonyo would fit Alessandra and Empoy, respectively, to a tee. That decision was perfect.

The movie is a breath of fresh air. 

It's easy to get tired of the formulaic rom-com movies that the local movie business use to lure fans of love teams who, in most cases, can't deliver decent acting. These rom-coms are usually made with the love teams in mind because they already have following. So, whatever thrash with which they are fed, they will swallow. The fans will be unison: "It's the best movie ever." That's fine. Producers don't want to lose money.

Kita Kita is different. I read somewhere that the director only wanted for her movie not to be pulled out of movie houses in the second day. Word of mouth and social media posts sent throng of curious movie goers who could be tired of formulaic, senseless, and rehashed stories. Several days later, the movie breached the 200-M mark. It was made with roughly 10-M budget. Does the movie deserve this? Of course. An astounding YES!

Do I like it? Very much. In my opinion it's not a comedy. It's a serious dramatic feature. The comedy is consequential. It discusses a lot of things. I'm not going to dwell into what others have already said and posted online - the likes of "you see things with your heart, and you'll never go wrong." Indeed, it's so ironic that Lea would "see clearly" when she had the affliction, but not when she was a tour guide have wide open eyes that could see clearly. Yes, I saw this even with the flawed script. 

It was during the affliction that we saw what's in Lea and Tony's hearts. We saw their dreams. We had a glimpse of their longing for the Philippines but simply couldn't just return home. We saw them fall in love. I can go on, but have to end here.

By the way, Two Less Lonely People In The World. occasionally playing on the background, complemented the overall feel of the movie.

Kita Kita is highly recommended.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 30, 2017

Movie No. 42 (2017): DUNKIRK

Dunkirk (2017)
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Brannagh, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles

I'm not familiar with the story the film is based from. So I'm judging Dunkirk based on the narrative and other aspects of the movie, not on its the historical accuracy.

The Allied Forces are stuck in the French City of Dunkirk. The French and UK rescue vessels race against time to evacuate the the men as the Nazi forces approach to takeover Dunkirk. The movie dramatizes the harrowing and agonizing wait. And then comes the final scene that can probably shock unprepared audience. 

There narrative is noticeably inventive. Dialogues are scant. Visual essays are enough to convey a point. The editing, while dizzying at some point, is justified if only to give the viewers the total experience of "being there." Random shots are fired from unseen enemy forces in the direction of scurrying troop - scenes that are reminiscent of Terence Malick's The Thin Red Line. 

In my opinion, Dunkirk will go down in history as one of the greatest war movies ever made, in the  same league of Saving Private Ryan.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 29, 2017

Movie No. 41 (2017): THE EXORCIST

The Exorcist (1973)
Director: William Friedkin
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, Linda Blair

I saw the VHS copy of the movie only in late 1990s. I saw it alone, so it really did me give real scare that would stay in my head for a few days. Or weeks. Then, between that time and last month, I got that chance to see the movie again in parts on cable TV in many instances. 

I saw The Exorcist again in full for the second time only last month. It was showing on cable TV. 

The Exorcist is one of the best examples of escapist cinema. While this is true, the movie's greatness lies in the artful execution of the narrative. It even dares to leave questions to disturb one's consciousness, whether one believes that the girl is just afflicted with a strange disease of the nervous system or that she really is possessed by the devil. The cinematography is sinister and is well-composed to suggest bleakness. And I have to specially note the superb performances of the actors who played as the exorcist, the priest (Max Von Sydow), and mother (Ellen Burstyn) of the afflicted or possessed 12-year old girl.

I still believe that The Exorcist is the scariest film of all time. It's the experience of seeing it that makes it really unforgettable.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: July 2, 2017

Movie No. 40 (2017): PETE'S DRAGON

Pete's Dragon (2016)
Director: David Lowery
Cast: Oakes Fegley, Bryce Dallas Howard, Robert Redford, Wes Bentley

Pete is an orphan. Elliott is a dragon. They friends. Their story is told the Disney way and we know what to expect.

This is kid's flick. Surprisingly, I was lured into seeing it as it was airing on TV because I remembered seeing the 1970's version of the movie. It was a long time ago and I couldn't remember what it was about. I only remembered the basic premise: orphan boy met dragon in the forest and they became friends. The rest was a blur.

This present adaptation somehow refreshed me the story of the unlikely friendship between the boy and the dragon and how they would stick together despite all odds. 

I enjoyed it.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: July 2, 2017

Movie No. 39 (2017): THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE

The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)
Director: Niki Caro
Cast: Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl, Johan Heldenbergh
In English and occasional German and Hebrew, with English subtitles

The movie is not perfect. But, it looked good enough on television based on the first few frames. I was lured to pay attention for a few more minutes. Before I knew it, almost a hour had passed. So I decided to finish the movie. And that was a good decision. 

I really like the film.

I saw several movies tackling the heroism of some random strangers during one of the darkest times in human civilization - the atrocities of the Nazi. Some were truly inspired like Schindler's List and In Darkness, to name a few. Based on real events, this movie effectively tells the heroic exploits of a couple by keeping several people in their family-run zoo in Poland and eventually saving some of them.

Jessica Chastain is Jessica Chastain, always dependable on practically all characters assigned to her to act out. The cinematography and costume design are effectively textured to give the feel of the time.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: June 25, 2017

Movie No. 38 (2017): EX WITH BENEFITS

Ex With Benefits (2015)
Director: Gino Santos
Cast: Derek Ramsay, Coleen Garcia, Tirso Cruz III, Carmi Martin
In Tagalog, with no English subtitles

Sunday afternoon on ABS-CBN  (Channel 2), June 18, 2017.

Ex-lovers in college, by some uninspired and cliched circumstance, meet again. The boy is now a doctor; the girl a medical representative. No, they don't become lovers again (yet), but ex with benefits, for old times sake. Interesting. The characters demand maturity. The actors simply try to look mature, but fail. The narrative of the romance demands maturity, too. I almost believed it was. But, going deeper, I found nothing except a showcase of contrivances and almost-fantasies.

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: June 18, 2017

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Movie No. 37 (2017): AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

And Then There Were None (2016)
Directors: Craig Viveiros, Basi Akpabio, Rebecca Keane
Cast: Charles Dance, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Aidan Turner, Maeve Dermody, Tony Stephens

And Then There Were None is an adaptation of world-popular novel Ten Little Indians by Agatha Christie. This is not the first time the book is adapted into screen. I saw the 1945 movie adaptation made by Rene Clair. There were a couple of other adaptations. 

This adaptation was shown on BBC in 2016 as a three-episode miniseries.

We already know what will happen. The guests, invited to a gathering in an inland mansion, who seem at first to have nothing in common, are to atone their sins and later will be murdered one by one. Despite that I already know this, I'm still awed by the excellent pacing and cinematography that contribute to the psychological thrill the movie intends to be. The decision to make it a 3-episode mini-series does the trick.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: June 17, 2017

Movie No. 36 (2017): ALWAYS BE MY MAYBE

Always Be My Maybe (2016)
Director: Dan Villegas
Cast: Gerald Anderson, Arci Munoz
In Filipino, no English subtitles

Saw this on a Sunday afternoon on TV (ABS-CBN). Definitely a decent entertainment.

It's romance-comedy, Pinoy style. Formulaic as expected. The ending, of course, is predictable. But, the movie is something that's not easy to dismiss as just one of those flicks that are made to make fans shudder in delight. The good thing about the movie or the script is that it spends time be elaborate in characterization and carefully composed scenes to justify the expected ending.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: June 11, 2017

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Movie No. 35 (2017): THE SECOND MOTHER

The Second Mother (aka Que Horas Ela Volta?) (2016)
Director: Anna Muylaert
Cast: Camila Mardila, Regina Case, Michel Joelsas
In Portuguese, with English subtitles

Val, who has been working as nanny for an affluent family in Sao Paolo more than a dozen years, is financially stable. The family she serves treats her well. However, she has daughter that she left under the care of her relatives in northern Brazil. Now, her daughter wants to live with her in Sao Paolo as she is entering college. The conflict begins when the daughter arrives in Sao Paolo and temporarily lives with her in the house of Val's employers while awaiting for the college entrance examination. 

The movie is a simple narrative that examines the dynamics of a different kind of mother-daughter relationship and its effects on people in their immediate circle. There's also this metaphoric commentary on social classes in modern Brazil. Regina Case is outstanding as Val.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 14, 2017

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Movie No. 34 (2017): THE TARGET

The Target (2014)
Director: Chang
Cast: Ryu Seung-ryong, Lee Jin-wook, Jo Yeo-jeung, Yoo Jun-sang
In Korean, with English subtitles

It may take sometime to see the connection of the opening scene to what seem to be unrelated scenes in the succeeding series of events. But the tension created by such scenes is solid. When everything makes sense during the first 20 minutes the remaining scenes are just like the usual concert of rehearsed choreography of cat-and-mouse chase. I'm not suggesting the Hollywoodish formula. There's still the Korean cinema stamp, which makes the movie still interesting. The ending is predictable; but the road to that ending is pebbled with some interesting twists.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: May 7, 2017

Movie No. 33 (2017): AMERICAN CRIME (Season 2)

American Crime (Season 2) (2016)
Creator/Producer: John Ridley
Cast: Felicity Hoffman, Timothy Hutton, Regina King, Lili Taylor

Season 2 has uses practically the same main cast as Season 1, but with a completely different story and characters. This time, the crime is man-rape. What makes it controversial is it happens to a student in a private high school with good reputation. The news of the crime, allegedly committed by students of the same school, makes the internet. The school administration uses all resources to maintain the school's reputation. But, the mother of the victim brings the incident to investigation by the police. Like the in Season 1, this present Season 2 is also interested in showing how the people related to the victim and suspects are affected by the incident during the investigation. 

The series is effectively calculating in suggesting homophobia and racial tension interspersed in the narrative.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: May 1, 2017

Movie No. 32 (2017): 13 REASONS WHY

13 Reasons Why (2017)
Creator/Producer: Brian Yorkey
Director: Various (including Gregg Araki)
Cast: Dylan Minette, Katherine Langford, Brandon Flynn, Ross Butler

This is a popular TV series, a Netflix original. It's tacking of the topics of bullying, peer pressure, bullying, substance abuse, and rape among teenagers makes the show controversial, polarizing those who've seen it.

It's popularity makes me not want to write down a synopsis for the series. 

I like the series. But it's not perfect. When each episode should suggest one reason for the suicide of one major character, there are a couple reasons that, for me, are vague. Hannah baker is not a character you can sympathize with. But that's okay. It's not the reason for the story being flawed. One may feel shortchanged after patiently waiting to see what's in every tape. That is the reason? But, the overall feel is more of awe than sigh. I particularly like the episode edits and the careful selection of important scenes to apply the famed Bergmanian approach to flashback. All the actors are good.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 23, 2017

Movie No. 31 (2017): AMERICAN CRIME (Season 1)

American Crime (Season 1) (2015)
Creator/Producer: John Ridley
Director: Various
Cast: Timothy Hutton, Felicity Hoffman, Regina King, Lili Taylor

The story begins with Russ (Timothy Hutton) receiving bad news: his son, a war veteran, and daughter-in-law were attacked in their home, now dead. He flies to Modesto, California. There he meets his estranged wife (Felicity Hoffman). The rest of the episodes tackle how lives of those who are connected to the victims and to the suspects change during the course of the investigation and trial. Hints of racial tension make the story and characters multi-dimensional.

I particularly like the episodic editing and treatment. The characters are well written and effectively played by the actors, especially Felicity Hoffman and Regina King. All supporting characters and their corresponding scenes are really integral to the effective narrative flow.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 18, 2017

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Movie No. 30 (2017): TO THE FORE

To The Fore (2015)
Director: Dante Lam
Cast: Choi Si-won, Shawn Dou, Eddie Peng
In Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin), with English subtitles

The movie is a fictional close look at the professional riders race competition. It centers on the three characters and their respective motivations. The characterization, conflicts, and resolution are formulaic. The formula is not a totally bad thing since the movie has executed them smoothly. What I admire most about the movie are the breathtaking cinematography and seamless editing during scenes involving races.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 17, 2017

Movie No. 29 (2017): UNDER THE SKIN

Under The Skin (2014)
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Cast: Scarlett Johansson

The movie is too abstract for me. This head-scratching movie is science fiction but for me it doesn't matter. Almost everything made sense when I had to jump back to the start of the movie a few minutes before the conclusion. Almost; not totally. But, the experience of seeing the movie is more important.

Scarlett Johansson is great.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 9, 2017

Movie No. 28 (2017): OUIJA, THE ORIGIN OF EVIL

Ouija: The Origin of Evil (2016)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Elizabeth Reaser, Henry Thomas, Annalise Baso

I didn't expect Ouija: The Origin of Evil to turn out to be a decent horror movie with real suspense. Both the narrative flow and characterization are engaging. There are no cheap thrills. 

Thumbs up.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: April 8, 2017

Movie No. 27 (2017): THE RED TURTLE

The Red Turtle (a.k.a. La Tortue Rouge) (2016)
Director: Michael Dudok De Wit
Animated film

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature early this year.

The movie is about a man who gets washed away in an uninhabited remote island. Every time he tries to to leave the island, his makeshift raft gets destroyed by a mysterious sea creature, a red turtle. The turtle is indeed mysterious since it will become part of his accidental exile in the island.

The movie is practically without any dialogue. But, despite the absence of dialogue, the narrative is crystal clear and it is fluid. Not a single scene is wasted. The story is classic, magical, and unforgettable.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 8, 2017

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Movie No. 26 (2017): UNDER THE SHADOW

Under The Shadow (2016)
Director: Babak Anvari
Cast: Narges Rashid, Bobby Naderi, Avin Manshadi
In Farsi, with English subtitles

The backdrop of the movie is the Iran-Iraq War. The protagonist Shideh is now married with a daughter. She is blacklisted from medical school for participating in protests against post-Revolution government during her days as student. Frustrated, she is left to look for her daughter in their apartment while her husband is serving as member of the medical team in the frontline. Air raids are everyday occurrence. The apartment building has shelter. But, one day, a missile hits the building. It doesn't explode. However, it brings forth strange consequences. Horror begins.

The movie is clever. The missile might be a metaphor for something sinister that Shideh must face. This is a rare movie of the genre.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 8, 2017

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Movie No. 25 (2017): AFTER THE STORM

After The Storm (2016)
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Cast: Hiroshi Abe, Yoko Maki
In Japanese, with English subtitles

It has been said that the works of Hirokazu Kore-eda reflect the contemplative style and pacing of Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang. These are usually conspicuous in all the family drama the director has made. After The Storm is not an exception. By saying it, I mean that I'm completely sucked into the narrative with that calculated but rhythmic pacing. 

Hiroshi Abe makes his loser character (Ryota) very human. We feel his struggle to be part of his son's life despite the divorce the broke the family. He's living alone, as a private detective, despite a promising career as a prize-winning novelist in the past. Then one summer, an unexpected storm forces the broken family, including Ryota's mother, to bond, resulting in certain realizations that may change the way they look at their relationships in the future.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 8, 2017

Friday, April 7, 2017

Movie No. 24 (2017): THE BYE BYE MAN

The Bye Bye Man (2017)
Director: Stacy Title
Cast: Cressida Bonas, Lucien Laviscount, Faye Dunaway

Three college friends move into a new housing and stumble upon objects associated with the Bye Bye Man. To avoid the curse of the Bye Bye Man all they need to do is "don't think it; don't say it." For me this is ridiculous. How can you avoid thinking about it when it's in your face or lurking or stalking you? That's why the screenplay fails miserably.

This is a horror movie. I expect to be scared. But, the movie uses cliches of the genre that make me irritated instead of scared. 

Rating: 1.0/4.0

Date seen: April 7, 2017

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Movie No. 23 (2017): THE NIGHT OF

The Night Of (2016)
Director: Various directors
Cast: Riz Ahmed, John Turturro

This is a mini-series created by Richard Prince and Steve Zaillian. But, it 's still a movie, a very long one. The episodic treatment, of course, is inevitable. 

The story practically begins with the arrest of a Naz (Riz Ahmed), a student who is of Pakistani descent, suspected of the murder of the girl he had a one-night-stand stint with a few hours earlier. Then comes the eczema-riddled, opportunistic attorney (Jack Stone), who preys on small-time criminal offenders at just the right time. Stone is interested and, of course, gets involved in Naz's case.

The police procedural and the so-called due process that follows gives a glimpse of the complication in how criminal justice system works. The writing is effective in how it shows how this incident affects all the people that got entangled into it, including Naz family and friends, Stone and his colleagues and acquaintances, the dead girl's blood connection, the detective, police officers, prosecutors, etc. There is also a subtle touching on racism and hate crime. The suspense and mystery are sustained until the conclusion. The ending sends me chills just thinking about what transpired during the entire season of this series.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: April 5, 2017

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Movie No. 22 (2017): A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS

A Tale of Love and Darkness (2015)
Director: Natalie Portman
Cast: Natalie Portman, Gilad Kahana, Amir Tessler
In Hebrew, with English subtitles

Amos Oz, probably the most acclaimed contemporary writer of Israel, tells, in the form of a memoir, the events that led to the founding of Israel. The narrative is basically on the point of view of his troubled family. Natalie Portman, in her directorial debut, translates the book into movie. She also stars as the matriarch in the movie.

Portman's connection to the material is well put in her direction and performance. For a neophyte director tackling on convoluted story, this effort deserves praise. I have to mention the excellent cinematography.

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: April 2, 2017

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Movie No. 21 (2017): KING COBRA

King Cobra (2016)
Director: Justin Kelly
Cast: James Franco, Christian Slater, Garret Clayton, Keegan Allen, Alicia Silverstone

The story is based on the so-called "Cobra Murder" involving a pornographer. The movie, however, is interested in the rise of a gay porn superstar called Brent Corrigan and his connection to the murder. James Franco and Christian Slater are cast as competing pornographers. 

The movie lacks substance. Blame it to poor script and editing. Even James Franco and Christian Slater, who could have positive contribution to the movie, are just caricatures. The movie looks like smut. It could have been as great as Boogie Nights but it fails miserably.

Rating: 1.5/4.0

Date seen: April 1, 2017

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Movie No. 20 (2017): LA LA LAND

La La Land (2016)
Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Stories about people chasing their dreams are not unique in movies. The story of Mia, struggling as an actress, and Sebastian, a jazz pianist, is not exempted. The movie, however, can only be interesting when the director puts something unconventional in the storytelling. I guess, this is where the movie deserves praise. Yes, the movie is original, but the concept is not. 

I enjoyed watching it. It's good. But, in my opinion, some musical movies some decades back are more memorable. 

Rating: 3.5/4.0

Date seen: March 12, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Movie No. 19 (2017): THE SALESMAN

The Salesman (aka Forushande)
Director: Asghar Farhadi
Cast: Taraneh Alidoosti, Shahab Hosseini
In Farsi, with English subtitles

I wanted this movie to win Best Foreign Language Film in the 79th Academy Awards. However, I didn't expect it to win because Toni Erdmann was immensely popular. An upset would be remote. But, it did win. That's unexpected; a pleasant surprise.

This is the story of a couple in Tehran that are forced to find another apartment when the building where they currently live is on the verge of collapsing because of the vibrations coming from the construction in the neighboring lot. The couple are part of the company that currently stages Arthur Miller's "Death of A Salesman." The marriage of the couple starts to turn sour during the staging of the play and at the time when they're on a temporary apartment. There's an assault. There's a scheme for revenge. 

The movie succeeds in going into the details of a marriage that's falling apart. Asghar Farhadi is a master of this kind of narrative - about the middle class caught in unexpected circumstances. The strength of the movie is in the screenplay, editing, and performances. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: February 27, 2017

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Movie No. 18 (2017): MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Manchester By The Sea (2016)
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Lucas Hedges, Kyle Chandler

Lee Chandler left his tortured life in Manchester for Boston, where he has been working as a handy man. But, another tragedy forces him to go back to Manchester to face more grievous circumstances. The movie writes about grief and loss very well. Casey Affleck's performance is genius. That can be a performance of a lifetime. In fact, the ensemble acting is unforgettable. The movie echoes the same or a little more chilling effect of Robert Redford's Ordinary People (Academy Awards Best Picture in 1980).

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: February 26, 2017

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Movie No. 17 (2017): HACKSAW RIDGE

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)
Director: Mel Gibson
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Sam Worthington

A lot of movies about war, particularly World War II, have been made. However, only a few show the humanizing experience of the soldiers who fought from both sides. Hacksaw Ridge is successful in this aspect. In addition, it highlights the heroic act of one person that refuses to carry arms as he serves his country in the war.

Andrew Garfield delivers a sympathetic performance. It's easy to see and feel the character Desmond Doss in him. Direction is outstanding; the battle scenes are exquisitely choreographed and photographed. Gore is everywhere. I think that's necessary.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: February 19, 2017

Movie No. 16 (2017): THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

The Girl on the Train (2016)
Director: Tate Taylor
Cast: Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans, Lisa Kudrow, Rebecca Ferguson

The most obvious good thing about the movie is Emily Blunt's outstanding performance. In this movie, Blunt is Rachel, who spends her time commuting while peering on a couple living in one of the houses that the train she is on passes by. She does this everyday to cope with depression caused by her divorce. One day, she sees something in the house's balcony that will consume her curiosity, and gets herself tangled into the couple's lives. 

The movie is of the mystery genre. Unfortunately, the editing and, partly, the script fail to sustain the mystery. It's not totally bad. I just find it wanting. Honestly, I was entertained. But then, in the end, I had this feeling that it could be better. At some point in the movie, I no longer cared how it would end.

Rating: 2.5/4.0

Date seen: February 19, 2017

Movie No. 15 (2017): DEEPWATER HORIZON

Deepwater Horizon (2016)
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, John Malkovich, Kurt Russell

The movie is based on the actual events surrounding the explosion of Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig off the coast of Gulf of Mexico, in April 2010. 

I searched for news clips about the incident prior to watching the movie. So, how the movie would end was already a given. Like any other disaster movies based on actual events, the challenge (for the movie) is how to keep viewers engaged during the entire running time of the movie. The script has to be engaging and editing meticulous. Well, this movie's script and editing are okay, but not grand. Cinematography and sound, however, are great. And. it's good to see the great John Malkovich on screen again.

Rating: 3.0/4.0

Date seen: February 17, 2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

Movie No. 14 (2017): LOST IN MUNICH

Lost in Munich (2015)
Director: Petr Zelenka
Cast: Martin Mysicka, Marek Taclik
In Czech and French, with English subtitles

The movie-within-a-movie (or movie about making a movie) format  of "Lost in Munich" is reminiscent of Francois Truffaut's "Day for Night." There is a single scene that makes me convinced that this movie is indeed a homage to the great Truffaut film. In addition: if Day for Night had a cat, Lost in Munich has a parrot, which is is old, gay, and racist.

Lost in Munich takes on the so-called Munich Betrayal, which Czechs are still bitter about. This historical event refers to the Munich Agreement - when France and Britain agreed to Hitler's demand to annex part of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. The movie, however, does not dwell into the seriousness and touchiness of the topic. Instead, it successfully twists genre to the absurd. 

The movie was Czech Republic's submission to the Best Foreign Language Film competition at the 89th Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: February 12, 2017

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Movie No. 13 (2017): THE AGE OF SHADOWS

The Age of Shadows (2016)
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Cast: Gong Yoo, Song Kang-ho
In Korean and Japanese, with English subtitles

In 1920's Japan-occupied Korea, a Korean (Lee, played by Song Kang-ho) who serves the Japanese police force is sent to go after the Resistance fighters. The assignment puts his loyalty on the spot. He meets the leader of the resistance (Kim, played bu Gong Yoo) and, as a double agent now, agrees to help transport explosives to Shanghai. But, of course, there will be obstacles. 

I'd like to commend the movie for its ability to hold my attention from start to finish. The cinematography and art direction easily transform the places where important scenes take place into important and, sometimes, seemingly sinister characters. The artful action sequences are beautifully choreographed. The long sequence in the train that is "full of spies" creates and effectively maintains suspense. The great editing of the planting of the bomb and the "Japanese party", Ravel's Bolero playing during the whole sequence, makes the entire sequence unforgettable.

This is great entertainment.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: February 5, 2017

Monday, January 30, 2017

Movie No. 12 (2017): YOUR NAME

Your Name (aka Kimi No Na Wa) (2016)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Voice cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mone Kamishiraishi
In Japanese, with English subtitles

This dialogue basically summarizes the plot of this movie: "Connecting people is Musubi. So the braided cords that we make represent the flow of time itself. They converge and take shape. They twist, tangle, sometimes unravel, then connect again."

This animated film reminds me of South Korea's "Il Mare." But, it's conflict is much different from the Your Name's. The only analogy I can think of is Il Mare's use of the mail box (as the link between two characters from different times) as Your Name's use of a smart phone. 

Your Name succeeds in visual realization of the screenplay, which, by the way, may have flaws. The flaws may have been due to the complex story. But that's forgivable. The movie still manages to show the very essence of the narrative that it wants to convey. 

The final scene presages a happy ending, which suggests the realization of the what the dialogue in the first paragraph summarizes.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 30, 2017

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Movie No. 11 (2017): LION

Lion (2016)
Director: Garth Davis
Cast: Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Sunny Pawar
In English and Hindi, with English subtitles

Lion's treatment is really Hollywoodish. Good thing is the story really happened. This fact, in mind as I watch the movie, makes me enjoy and actually cry in some scenes. I like how the movie discusses subtly determination, identity, hope, and courage (to live despite unforgiving circumstances). The movie shows everything on the point of view of a five-year-old child, even when the child is 25 years older. 

Both Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman deliver great performances. And the musical score is something noteworthy.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 29, 2017

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Movie No. 10 (2017): TANNA

Tanna (2016)
Director: Bentley Dean, Martin Butler
Cast: Marie Wawa, Mungau Dain
In Yakel dialect (Vanuatu), with English subtitles

Tribes in the Yakel Village of Vanuatu have rejected influences of colonizers and Christians. Two warring tribes preserve their traditions, which includes arranged marriage. Conflict arises when the bride (Wawa) who has been promised to the son of the chief of the other tribe, as peace offering, runs away with her childhood friend from the same tribe. 

The tradition looks familiar and the conflict simple. But, the movie succeeds in weaving the complexity of the problem into the narrative. The surroundings (thick jungle, spouting volcano, and vast ocean) contribute to the uncivilized nature of the situation despite the progress that are also in the surroundings of their realm.

The actors are first-time actors and they are all real tribesmen of Yakel. But, their portrayal are so genuine. Cinematography is awesome.

The movie is nominated as Best Foreign Language Film in
the 89th Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 28, 2017

Movie No. 9 (2017): HIDDEN FIGURES

Hidden Figures (2016)
Director: Ted Melfi
Cast: Kevin Costner, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali

The movie tells the true story of (some of) the great minds of NASA behind meticulous calculations to launch astronaut John Glenn into space orbit around the Earth. This was during the 1960s; these great minds were women, and they were black. Therefore, the movie tackles gender and race issues, which are integral part of, not only American history, but world history as well. The movie turna out to be great entertainment, the Hollywood way, in a good way. The performances of the lead and supporting actors are simply great,

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 28, 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

Movie No. 8 (2017): FROM AFAR

From Afar (aka Desde Alla) (2015)
Director: Lorenzo Vigas
Cast: Alfredo Castro, Luis Silva
In Spanish, with English subtitles

This movie from Venezuela won the top award at the 72nd Venice Film Festival in 2015.

Let me describe the movie as a dark romance. Why does this remind me of Death In Venice and Our Lady of the Assassins? One thing to note about the movie is its being too visual. We see the characters actions but we can't get through their psyches. We're puzzled about their intentions. We observe a lot of long shots, which will only make sense toward the end. And these are things that make the movie interesting. The ending, though something that I don't expect, makes sense.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 22, 2017

Movie No. 7 (2017): THE MARTIAN

The Martian (2015)
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast: Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig

What it feels to have been left behind in Mars by your crew, presuming you're dead after a terrible storm, is acted out excellently by Matt Damon as Mark Watney. But, it still puzzles me why Golden Globes classified the movie as comedy last year. 

I'm not sure if the movie is scientifically accurate. It doesn't matter. The storytelling is masterful. 

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 22, 2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Movie No. 6 (2017): STAR WARS: Episode VI - THE RETURN OF THE JEDI

Star Wars: Episode VI - The Return of the Jedi (1983)
Director: George Lucas
Cast: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill

I remember seeing all the first three installments of Star Wars some time in 1990s in a span of a week or two. I remember liking the first two more than the third, The Return of the Jedi. But, still, I considered the last installment, which was supposedly the final episode of the series, a good narrative exercise. In fact, I considered the movies as one long movie. This way, I can say, the series was a masterpiece. 

To have seen the movie on Star Movies today is only the second time to see it in full. While the excitement that I felt seeing it the first time has dwindled, I can't deny that the movie, considering all the aspects of a good movie, is a masterpiece, considering it as a par
t of the original three-part series. In fact, the so-called Episodes 1, 2, and 3 made more than 20 years later, in my opinion, were not necessary to maintain the status of the earlier episodes (the so-called Episodes 4, 5, and 6) as masterpiece.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 22, 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

Movie No. 5 (2017): A MAN CALLED OVE

A Man Called Ove (2016)
Director: Hannes Holm
Cast: Rolf Lassgard
In Swedish, with English subtitles

We've read stories or seen movies about grumpy old men and their unfortunate daily interactions with their neighbors. The movie, A Man Called Ove, is no different. What makes this movie memorable is the way the movie handles misery, loss, sentimentality, and a stray cat with humor.

The movie is shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 89th Academy Awards.

Rating: 4.0/4.0

Date seen: January 15, 2017