Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mini-reviews: 3 MMFF films

Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh

Probably director Joel Lamangan's most inspired work in years, Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah Ze Movie is a visual and aural delight. It's a fun musical based on (and quite faithful to) Carlo Vergara's hit graphic novel about a gay parlor owner who becomes a super-powered babe upon swallowing a large rock from outer space. Despite some shortcomings, the visual effects are highly commendable for a local production and adequately capture the humor inherent in even the most sophisticated of sequences. Rustom Padilla as Ada and Zsa Zsa Padilla as Ada transformed into the superheroine Zaturnnah are both amazing in their respective roles, both showing great vulnerability and, in Padilla's case, just the right amount of flair to be believable as someone who has just newly acquired a much-wanted female anatomy. Chokoleit as sidekick Didi has good comic timing (though it can be argued that the role isn't much of a stretch for him), and Alfred Vargas is appropriately charming (and undressed) as the object of Ada/Zsa Zsa's fantasies. Pops Fernandez's screen presence fizzles despite being the main antagonist Femina Baroux, but she makes up for the general lack of luster with a fiery musical showdown with Padilla (both of them are highly skilled singers). The musical numbers are all fun sequences (one has enemy zombies singing in the background as Zaturnnah pleads in song with her undead father to accept his son's chosen way of life) but do not dominate the movie, giving the actors time to show their mettle and the story to develop until the satisfactory though slightly gratuitous and artificial (one of the departures from the source material) ending. Grade: B+


Director Cesar Montano should probably be commended for trying a different approach at storytelling and directing, especially since his Ligalig is a thriller, but here is an example of good intentions gone seriously wrong. While the cinematography and editing work in a few sequences, it usually borders on being completely abominable. Short sequences with Montano's character Jun in his cab provide a harrowing glimpse into how a director could use too much of something he thinks would be cool to see in a movie. In this case, the camera angle turns carelessly and annoyingly from one side of the car to the other without dramatic sense. The plot is utterly predictable and the concept a tired cliche in thrillers, though in an industry steeped in tearjerkers and teen dramas and superhero movies, Montano will still probably get [overly] praised for his effort. To this viewer, who has more respect for what Filipinos are capable of doing, Montano's latest is a pretentious waste of cinematic style. One of the few things going for it: an impressive performance from Montano's wife, Sunshine Cruz. Grade: D

Super Noypi

Quark Henares, the director of Super Noypi, is of that generation of filmmakers to which audiences and industry insiders have looked to renew the local film industry with new ideas and styles. That is what makes this film, already a dud in all aspects, even more disappointing. The visual effects are a painful throwback to the inadequate and cringe-worthy attempts in staple Filipino fantasy films of the 80s and the early 90s. The acting is atrocious. Why do two movies in this film festival have as the main villain Monsour del Rosario, a wooden, lifeless actor who should just focus on sports (at least he excels in that field)? The cheap puppets used as monsters in local horror flicks can give him acting lessons. Did Henares simply tell Sandara Park: "Just act as dumb and annoying as most people think you are"? Why are the kids acting like their parents haven't been kidnapped by the villain (unless they know how pathetic he really is and aren't that worried)? And do the parents, after being rescued, enjoy watching their children get tossed aside by said pathetic villain on a video screen in their safe and comfy aircraft? What was Quark Henares thinking? He obviously does not know how to handle a large budget for a film. Logical flaws, plot holes, and acting duds aside, the film has an even greater sin: blatantly ripping off many aspects of the Marvel comic book "Runaways" without due credit. The few funny moments, mostly courtesy of a surprisingly scene-stealing John Pratts, are not enough to even make this insipid, innane film remotely watchable. Grade: F

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dream cast for Evangelion

Most fans of the groundbreaking anime "Neon Genesis Evangelion" like myself are both excited and more than a bit wary about the potential of a live-action adaptation (which has been reported to be in progress from as far back as 2004). It's undoubtedly going to be a visual spectacle, with WETA onboard to take charge of its production design, but who's going to direct it? Who will play Shinji, Misato, Asuka, and the other characters? Will it be in Japanese? is the primary source for news on the live-action project, and there hasn't been any concrete update regarding its development. A fan-designed trailer is up on that site, however, and despite questionable casting choices (see for yourself), it shows the vast potential that the live-action film has as a sci-fi epic unlike anything we have even seen.

So my interest has been reawakened. I'm crossing my fingers that it's Peter Jackson or some great director dedicated to keeping the spirit of the anime. The casting has to work on the basis of cultural nuances and the actors' ability to capture the eccentricities of perhaps Japanese animation's most psychologically complex characters. I came up with this list before in my old website, but I'm posting it here again. Tell me what you think. (Forgive the edited photos; I'm a mere amateur in photoshop editing, was just having fun with these).

Yagira Yuuya as Ikari Shinji

Ikari Shinji just HAS to be Japanese. And if it's to be a young Japanese actor, who better than Yagira Yuuya, a Best Actor awardee at Cannes? Shinji is a disturbingly complex character. I don't want some pouting Caucasian boy making him nothing more than a brooding adolescent. Whoever plays him has to be a great actor.

Emma Watson as Soryu Asuka Langley

Up until the writing of this, I was still choosing between Emily Browning, who impressed me a lot as Violet Baudelaire in 2004's Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and Emma Watson, who we all know and have come to love (in varying degrees) as Hermione Granger. Looking at photos of both, and considering what I've seen from them, I'm finally choosing Watson. I'm convinced that she can effectively portray spunky, naughty, tragically unhinged Asuka, and she'll look great with the character's signature red hair.

Matsushima Nanako as Katsuragi Misato

Most film fans know her as the lead of Ringu, but to see how brilliant she would be as Katsuragi Misato, one has to watch her performance in the live-action "Great Teacher Onizuka" series. After watching that, I couldn't imagine anyone else playing Misato. She has the beauty, the stance, and the general attitude to pull it off perfectly. I can imagine Matsushima as drunk Misato, stern tactician Misato, emotionally ravaged Misato... She'll be perfect.

Sanada Hiroyuki as Ikari Gendou

Matsushima's ex-husband in Ringu, Sanada Hiroyuki, has a dark, brooding intensity that has landed him such strong roles as that and as the originally unaccepting samurai in The Last Samurai. Just imagine him glaring over overlapping fingers as Shinji's villainous father, Gendou. He'd be chilling, with just enough cold humanity to make him at least remotely worthy of sympathy.

Maggie Cheung as Akagi Ritsuko

The brilliant NERV scientist Ritsuko has ever been described as cold, even by her close friends. Respected Chinese actress Maggie Cheung has the looks of cold steel and intellect that would be perfect for this role. Gong Li is another possibility, but Akagi's hair (even if only in style and not in color) would fit Cheung better, and Cheung's body frame seems a better fit.

Takeshi Kaneshiro as Ryoji Kaji

There are few Japanese men as ruggedly handsome as Takeshi Kaneshiro. Need I say more? Kaji is a real ladies' man, a charmer, and few can capture that on film better than Kaneshiro would. Plus, that's one big segment of the market already in the bag if he's in.

Takeshi 'Beat
' Kitano as Commander Fuyutsuki

Beat Kitano has a powerful presence, but he can be quiet and subtle when he wants to be. He can bring the necessary calmness, humility, and strength of character that Fuyutsuki is known for.

What about Ayanami Rei?

One of Japanese animation's most popular characters of all time is also one of the most difficult to cast, especially for someone like me who hasn't watched a lot of recent Japanese films. Suzuka Ohgo was a revelation in Memoirs of a Geisha, but she may be too cute to play the iconically eerie Rei (unless some transformation happens to the actress in a year). A lot of people are probably going to erupt with indignation upon my even suggesting this, but Dakota Fanning has proven that 1) she can act very well and 2) she can look pretty creepy. Imagine her with a red-eyed glare, saying almost nothing. Shudder. But I'm making the call out of ignorance, so it's not necessarily my ideal casting.

I really hope that this film gets made, and that it ends up being one of the most kick-ass sci-fi movies ever made. If you agree with my choices and know someone in the film's production team (or are in it yourself), then I hope you help make this dream cast a reality.

Friday, December 15, 2006

64th Golden Globe Award Nominations

This is, in my opinion, one of the best lineups I've seen out of the HFPA nominations. I just love the surprises (comments below)! Here are the nominees (with results of my predictions and some comments):


The Departed
Little Children
The Queen

's the small surprise (it was always a tough contender), but I haven't seen it yet so I can't comment.


Penelope Cruz (Volver)
Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Sherrybaby)
Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Kate Winslet (Little Children)

Maggie squeaks in due to bad reception of Cate Blanchett's The Good German. Lucky her.


Leonardo DiCaprio (Blood Diamond)
Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed)
Peter O'Toole (Venus)
Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness)
Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

Didn't see that one coming! Just a few days after the BFCA gave double noms for DiCaprio, the HFPA does the same. He so deserves it. Can the Academy do the same? Ken Watanabe's chances are slipping fast with this snub.


Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
The Devil Wears Prada
Little Miss Sunshine
Thank You For Smoking

Yey! The Devil Wears Prada!


Annette Bening (Running With Scissors)
Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine)
Beyonce Knowles (Dreamgirls)
Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)
Renee Zellweger (Miss Potter)

I loved Toni Collette in Little Miss Sunshine. Kudos to the HFPA for nominating her instead of [slightly] overrated Abigail Breslin!


Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat)
Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest)
Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Kinky Boots)
Will Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction)

The snub of Jamie Foxx isn't at all a surprise. Should have thought of Ejiofor. Cohen is taking this, for sure.


Clint Eastwood (Flags of Our Fathers)
Clint Eastwood (Letters from Iwo Jima)
Stephen Frears (The Queen)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel)
Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

All worthy nominees, with Eastwood scoring double for an artistic feat. But where's Bill Condon? How will this affect his Oscar chances?


Adriana Barraza (Babel)
Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal)
Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada)
Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)

I love the HFPA for nominating Emily Blunt! Hers isn't my favorite supporting turn of the year (so far, it's Kikuchi), but she surely deserves a nod for her scene-stealing turn in Prada. THIS is the lineup that I want to see come Oscar nominations.


Ben Affleck (Hollywoodland)
Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)
Jack Nicholson (The Departed)
Brad Pitt (Babel)
Mark Wahlberg (The Departed)

Pity that Michael Sheen didn't make it, but I'm so excited to see that Mark Wahlberg did. Just like Emily Blunt in the ladies' category, Wahlberg stole every scene he was in and truly deserves this. Hopefully it translates into an Oscar nom. Thanks, HFPA, for choosing Affleck and Wahlberg over the [extremely] overrated Alan Arkin!


Little Children
Notes on a Scandal
The Departed
The Queen

The biggest surprise is probably the exclusion of Little Miss Sunshine, but the Academy has two categories for screenplay, so no one will lose sleep over it.


Letters from Iwo Jima
The Lives of Others
Pan's Labyrinth

After snubbing The Passion of the Christ two years ago, the HFPA opts for a bloodier Mel Gibson epic. Pretty expectable lineup, though I had predicted Curse of the Golden Flower (the HFPA loves Chinese martial arts epics) instead of Apocalypto.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE (no predictions)

Happy Feet
Monster House


The Painted Veil
The Fountain
The Da Vinci Code

Wow, I got 1 out of 5. Biggest surprise is probably the exclusion of the score for Notes on a Scandal.


"A Father's Way" (The Pursuit of Happyness)
"Listen" (Dreamgirls)
"Never Gonna Break My Faith" (Bobby)
"The Song of the Heart" (Happy Feet)
"Try Not to Remember" (Home of the Brave)

Most notable snub: Melissa Etheridge's "I Need to Wake Up" (from An Inconvenient Truth).

Post-Golden Globe nominations predictions will be up soon.

On a quick TV noms note: I'm happy that Heroes and its star Masi Oka (Hiro Nakamura) are nominated in the Best TV Series - Drama and Best Supporting Actor categories, respectively.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Review: Little Miss Sunshine

My opinions haven't shifted so much in one run of a movie as they had when I watched Little Miss Sunshine. Though I've been misled before by all the hype from critics (I did not care for Lost in Translation AT ALL), I was ready to love this film and be an advocate of its uphill Oscar campaign. Ten minutes into the film, however, I was ready to hate it and declare it overrated; I found Greg Kinnear, Alan Arkin (more on him later), and even everyone's darling Abigail Breslin extremely annoying, with only Toni Collette and Steve Carell making those parts remotely tolerable. What flawed characters! How could anyone love this movie?

That bus does have magic, doesn't it? As soon as their trip to the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant started on that protesting yellow machine, the character flaws suddenly breathed life into what could have been a completely infuriating movie. The poster shows the characters running to get into the bus, and those moments are truly the most special in the film, for all that it says. There is no doubt that a great ensemble was formed for this movie; their chemistry is organic. There is something endearing in seeing this family on the verge of a breakdown trying not to fall that way but not trying too hard. The ending of the film, with less resolutions than more conventional films have, left me baffled at first, but then I realized that had all the loose ends been tied neatly, all the charm that the movie has would have been for naught.

Abigail Breslin is as charming as other reviews say she is, though I'm still not convinced of her shot at a nomination. I'm much less amenable to the idea of Alan Arkin being nominated (which is seeming to be an even bigger certainty than a nod for Breslin). He has certain touching moments (as when he comforts his son, played by Kinnear, after an upsetting event), but there is nothing remotely special about his short performance (other than being a nutcase with a soft heart for his grandchild) that would warrant all the praise and attention. Come on, are we just being sentimental? If any actor in that ensemble deserves a Supporting Actor nomination, it's Steve Carell, for being natural and deadpan in his delivery of an acerbic yet very caring Proust scholar learning to cope with life's mishaps.

It's no doubt a good film, though I've seen a lot this year that have captivated and drawn me much more. FYC in all the categories that they're campaigning for, except for Arkin. Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

BFCA Nominations

The official list of Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) nominees is here.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Updates to Predictions

Final pre-Golden Globes predictions have been made in all categories.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Golden Globe Predictions

Updated Golden Globe predictions:

The Departed
Flags of Our Fathers
The Good German
The Queen

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
For Your Consideration
Little Miss Sunshine

Stranger Than Fiction

Pedro Almodovar (Volver)
Bill Condon (Dreamgirls)
Clint Eastwood (Letters from Iwo Jima)
Stephen Frears (The Queen)
Martin Scorsese (The Departed)

Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed)
Peter O'Toole (Venus)
Will Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness)
Ken Watanabe (Letters from Iwo Jima)
Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)

Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat)
Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest)
Aaron Eckhart (Thank You For Smoking)
Jamie Foxx (Dreamgirls)
Will Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction)

Cate Blanchett (The Good German)
Penelope Cruz (Volver)
Judi Dench (Notes on a Scandal)
Helen Mirren (The Queen)
Kate Winslet (Little Children)

Annette Bening (Running With Scissors)
Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Beyonce Knowles (Dreamgirls)
Meryl Streep (The Devil Wears Prada)
Renee Zellweger (Miss Potter)

Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine)
Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls)
Jack Nicholson (The Departed)
Brad Pitt (Babel)
Michael Sheen (The Queen)

Cate Blanchett (Notes on a Scandal)
Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls)
Rinko Kikuchi (Babel)
Catherine O'Hara (For Your Consideration)
Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction)

The Departed
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen
Stranger Than Fiction

Curse of the Golden Flower
Letters from Iwo Jima
The Lives of Others
Pan's Labyrinth

The Departed
The Good German
Letters from Iwo Jima
Notes on a Scandal

"I Need to Wake Up" (An Inconvenient Truth)
"Keep Holding On" (Eragon)
"Listen" (Dreamgirls)
"Never Gonna Break My Faith" (Bobby)
"You Know My Name" (Casino Royale)

Prediction updates soon

Updates to predictions will come after the Golden Globe nominations are announced, to reflect those, the National Board of Review wins, noms from LA and NY critics and the BFCA, and eligibility lists (e.g. for Best Original Song).

Eligible Songs for Best Original Song Oscar

See the full, official list here.

Now that "O Kazakshtan" is an official contender, I'm seeing it as a potential nominee. Seriously.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


An Inconvenient Truth

As would probably be expected, there are shots of Al Gore's campaign for the presidency and loss to George Bush in the environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth, but the approach does not across as being tasteless (except to die-hard Republicans, perhaps). Said scenes juxtapose well with the main theme of the film, which of course is global warming, and they make the viewer wonder how different the state of the environment would be had the U.S. elected the other candidate. Gore presents his case and call for change strongly, with data that would satisfy most in the scientific field and that many that are not would be able to understand. This is definitely the type of documentary that everyone, without exception, should see. Grade: A

Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles

Before Hero and House of Flying Daggers, Chinese director Zhang Yimou turned in subdued and meek yet still spectacular dramas (usually with Gong Li), like Raise the Red Lantern. Qian li zou dan qi (Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles) is not really a return to form in that sense (it can definitely be argued that Zhang never left it anyway), but the film has the quiet, subtle touches of art-house favorites. It's not as heart-stirring or powerful as many of Zhang's other films, but it is probably there wherein the film's strength lies; it deftly handles the characters' drama without being overly dramatic. Grade: B+


Babel is often compared with last year's Oscar champ Crash, but they are ultimately two different beings. The latter is more cohesive, with a near-seamless and unforced connection between the lives of its characters (it helps that they're all in the U.S.). Those connections are much more artificial in Babel. There are also some characters and issues carelessly tossed aside throughout the length of the film. Still, like Crash, it is a strong ensemble with pitch-perfect performances from everyone, standouts being Brad Pitt and Rinko Kikuchi. The score and cinematography are similarly top-notch. Grade: B+

The Nativity Story

Early reviews of The Nativity Story as nothing more than a glorified High School nativity drama are justified. This vapid and flat film has the look and feel of a cheap nativity pageant, complete with white-robed angel and word-per-word copying of key Bible dialogue. Scenes that should have been powerful, such as the annunciation, are inconsequential, and additions (such as the river scene where pregnant Mary and Joseph almost drown) are forced and hold no significant meaning. Keisha Castle-Hughes is even more lifeless than the film itself, giving a performance unworthy of a former Oscar nominee and of the potential richness of the role as the mother of Christ. Some good things about the film: Oscar Isaac's and Ciaran Hinds's performances as Joseph and King Herod, respectively; and the dwelling on the issue of Mary's purity in the eyes of her village. Grade: C

Images from IMDb

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Peter Jackson: A Retrospective

When it was first announced that Kiwi director Peter Jackson would be directing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, many were surprised. Quite understandably so. He had shown his directing and writing talent in Heavenly Creatures (for which he and Fran Walsh got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay) and his ability to handle a visual effects-heavy film with The Frighteners, but film buffs knew that he had his roots in less mainstream fare that had audiences cringing. His first feature-length film as a director, Bad Taste, shares qualities with his next two projects, Meet the Feebles and Braindead (aka Dead Alive): they are, yes, tasteless (this viewer finds it difficult to think of a more gratuitously gory film than Braindead), but the signs of a cinematic genius are already there. Jackson's narrative skill and attention to detail are evident (though the former takes a backseat to violence in Braindead), and of course his use of prosthetics and puppetry in all three films (particularly in Meet the Feebles, a sick, twisted yet diabolically brilliant film with its entire cast made of animal puppets or costumes) would have prepared him for the epic technical achievement that is LOTR. In fact, he goes a long way back with many of the trilogy's now-famous technical staff, including editor Jamie Selkirk, effects guru Richard Taylor, and of course partner Walsh. It was an extremely gratifying experience to sit through his first three, lesser known creations, bask in his creative genius, cringe with disgust and horror with his excesses, and simply understand a little bit more how the mind behind the best film trilogy of all time works.

Bad Taste (1987): B; Meet the Feebles (1989): B+; Braindead (1992): C+; Heavenly Creatures (1994): B; The Frighteners (1996): C+; The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001): A; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002): A; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003): A; King Kong (2005): A

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Spirit Awards nomination for Maximo!

The Philippine entry to the 79th Academy Awards, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, has been nominated in the Best Foreign Film category of the 2007 Independent Spirit Awards! Other Oscar-eligible films nominated in this category are Algeria's Days of Glory and Germany's The Lives of Others. The full official list of nominees in all categories can be seen here.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Mini-Reviews: Borat and A Scanner Darkly

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

What a terribly offensive film! Sick and disgusting in some parts (the wrestling scene) and insulting in most others. Which isn't to say that it isn't funny. Borat has got to be one of the funniest films this year, and even one of the most accomplished. After all, it is able to do what it set out to: expose America's flaws and make an insane comedy out of it. Sacha Baron Cohen has amazing comic timing as Borat Sagdiyev. Heck, even during his more dramatic moments, he's still good and manages to keep in character. There's nothing really negative this viewer can say about how the film was made. Just a warning: if you're narrow minded, don't have a sense of humor, or just can't tolerate insults to your culture or others', then keep away from this film. Otherwise, make sure you watch it. Grade: B+

A Scanner Darkly

The rotoscoping technique undoubtedly gives Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly a mesmerizing, colorful edge, though this viewer still can't help but wonder if a stronger film would have been made had it been a simple live-action project. It is ultimately dry and trying, but the performances (the standout being, of course, Robert Downey Jr.) and the plot can have the audience fighting boredom to try to finish it. It's worth the effort. Grade: B

Images from IMDb

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Review: Ang Pamana: The Inheritance

Ringu's Sadako will forever remain one of cinema's scariest concoctions, but the proliferation of obvious clones since 1998 has become quite tiresome. While some of local cinema's more recent blockbuster horror flicks (notable among them the two Kris Aquino starrers, Feng Shui and Sukob) have injected aspects of Philippine culture into their plots, the final package has not strayed far from the formulaic horror introduced by Hideo Nakata. It is therefore very welcome news when a Filipino horror film veers away from this trend and touches on something truly horrific in the local framework: the aswangs of Filipino folklore. And to have a Filipino based in Canada do it first!

Ang Pamana: The Inheritance is Romeo Candido's third and biggest film to date, though it still forsakes a big stellar cast for depth and sense. When the three grandchildren of a woman in touch with spirits inherit her home in the province, they become exposed to the threats of elementals and evil creatures, among them the kapre (a tobacco-smoking giant living in trees) and the sinister manananggal (a fetus-eating aswang who detaches her torso from her lower half and flies in the night in search of pregnant women). The grandmother, having been strongly attuned to the spirit world even in life, expectedly lingers in the house and its environs.

The cinematography and editing are sleek and professional, making this one of the better shot modern Filipino horror films. Some stylistic touches, such as the dominant use of lizards, work magically. The original songs (composed and performed by the director) are appropriately mesmerizing, with pop sensibilities yet bizarre enough to make them ideal for the dark theme. Much has been said about how natural and organic the performances of the actors here are, but it has to be said again, for it is one of the primary strengths of the film. From the cameos (touching turns by veterans Tirso Cruz III and, unfortunately less fleshed out in terms of character development, Jacklyn Jose) to the major players (Darrel Gamotin and Nadine Villasin), there is no false or cringe-worthy note in the ensemble. Gamotin, whose Johnny is undoubtedly the lead, effortlessly controls the character's confusion, resolve, terror. His is not a great performance as far as great performances go, but it is refreshingly natural and void of overacting (actually, the same can be said about everyone else in the film). Local model and TV host Phoemela Baranda is utterly beautiful here and shows that she can act better than most insanely famous young stars of Philippine cinema (a key scene, strong and well executed, is when her sweet facade breaks down with a vicious slap on a hapless cousin's face). She should further develop her acting skills with more dramatic roles in the future. But the standout by far is Nicco Lorenzo Garcia, the mentally handicapped cousin of whispered origins. Beyond being very convincing as a disabled person, his lines (and tears, in certain crucial scenes) are delivered with commendable timing.

There are, however, weaknesses in character (aside from Jose's character, Villasin's Ana is an accessory, with her child's fate even being disturbingly left unexplained after the manananggal's attack) and plot development (isn't the sudden turn to a "monster hunt," even quest-like in that it is precipitated by a bit of guidance from the resident kapre, a bit rushed?). And while the depiction of the manananggal, perhaps one of Filipino folklore's most chilling denizens, is interesting, it certainly wasn't scary enough (this viewer was expecting to get ready to have nightmares about the thing). It is unfortunate that such a foul creature was not made terrifyingly memorable enough to stand the test of time as a true cinematic monster, the way Sadako surely will.

Despite these flaws, this viewer is inclined to proclaim Ang Pamana: The Inheritance one of the better and more original horror films to have come out of Asian cinema in many years. Grade: B+

Image from the official film website

Monday, November 13, 2006

8th Cinemanila winners

The winners of the 8th Cinemanila International Film Festival are:

Grand Prize, Lino Brocka Award (International Competition)
, Jeffrey Jeturian

Special Jury Prize (International Competition)
Everlasting Regret
, Stanley Kwan

Best Actress (International Competition)
Lee Young-ae
(Sympathy for Lady Vengeance)

Best Actor (International Competition)
Alexei Chadov
(9th Company)

Ishmael Bernal Award for Young Cinema
Jobin Ballesteros
(Ballad of Mimiong's Minion)

Best Short Film
Hopia Express
, Janus Victoria

Best Documentary
Paper Dolls
, Tomer Heymann

Digital Lokal Grand Prize
, Brillante Mendoza

Digital Lokal Jury Prize
, Khavn dela Cruz

Best Director (Digital Lokal)
Brillante Mendoza

Best Actress (Digital Lokal)
Maricel Soriano

Best Actor (Digital Lokal)
Archie Adamos
(Raket Ni Nanay)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Review: Flags of Our Fathers

Clint Eastwood's latest film, Flags of Our Fathers, is a gorgeously shot film about the Battle of Iwo Jima and the soldiers who raised the American flag. It probably has the most beautifully executed war re-enactment since what we saw in Saving Private Ryan (directed by Steven Spielberg, who incidentally is one of the producers of Flags), combining sheer artistry with stark realism and bloody gore (flying heads and spilling entrails a-plenty). Adam Beach is given a lot of the key dramatic scenes, which he pulls off adequately, and Ryan Philippe is, as usual, pleasantly competent though not striking. Overall, however, the film is lukewarm and constantly in danger of being overly dramatic. While it works well in some scenes (for instance, when Doc remembers Iggy and each of the other flag-raisers in their last moments), the style used in interspersing flashbacks with flashbacks is a rather tired cliche. A note on the score: it functions in this film by subtly playing on the emotional content of certain scenes, but it is nearly indistinct from Eastwood's score in his most recent films. He should probably hire someone else for his next project. Eastwood's latest film is ultimately pleasing but fails to involve at least this viewer. Grade: B

Image from IMDb

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Review: Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Chan-wook Park's Chinjeolhan geumjassi (Sympathy for Lady Vengeance) is a glossy, stylistic revenge movie in the vein of Kill Bill (though the big crucial scenes in the last quarter of the movie reminded me more of Grace's sweet payback in Dogville). The film is very entertaining, with particular highlights said scenes of carnage (to say more would be to spoil the fun). Lead Yeong-ae Lee (otherwise known as Jang-geum of the hit Korean soap "A Jewel in the Palace") is beautiful with two edges: adorably sweet when she smiles, stoically sculptured beauty when expressionless (or when it is revealed what she's really smiling about). She's also a highly capable actress, handling shifting emotions with ease; she can slide without visible effort from chilling vengeance devil to heartbroken mother. Still, despite the undeniable visual and aural (the score generally complements the moods) beauty of the film, it is burdened by inconsistencies in flow. The first and second parts (arcs, in a way) of the film seem to be totally different films with wholly different styles of narration. There is an attempt to thematically join the two arcs at the end, but while it is beautifully shot and executed, there is a slight failure to produce a convincingly cohesive whole. However, it only slightly deducts from the quality of the film as an artistic narrative of wrongs righted. Grade: B+

Image from IMDb

Monday, November 06, 2006

Review: The Queen

One of this year's most talked about and praised films, Stephen Frears's The Queen lives up to the expectations that all the hype has generated. It is in many respects a small, simple film, focusing on the Queen's and the Prime Minister's often conflicting ideas and actions surrounding the death of Princess Diana. While relatively small, it does not fall short on emotional impact and the capabilities of its principal actors. Snippets of Diana and the events surrounding her death bring fresh memories of that tragic event, making the technique of showing these old clips more effective than would have a reenactment by some actress. Much has been said about how the film brings out the humanity of the Queen and the rest of the royal family, how the Queen is a concerned grandmother and a lover of animals. It is a fair assessment; while the film explores the traditional restrictions placed upon the royal family and its protocols, it is also quick to dismiss the notion of the Queen as above feeling the fears and sorrows and troubles of common people.

Helen Mirren deserves all the accolades and praise that she has received and is likely to get more of (maybe even an Oscar). Mirren has always played stern women fabulously, so she gets the Queen's reticence and stoic grace perfectly, infusing her with the perfect amount of noble dignity. But in her moments of vulnerability (key scene: when her car breaks down on the crossing of the river and she sees the stag), Mirren, while never abandoning the queenly grace, makes her truly human, a woman whose world has come into question.

I had expected Michael Sheen to fade into the background beside the strength of Mirren's persona, but he more than holds his own as beleaguered Prime Minister Tony Blair. He very adeptly portrays Blair as a man of conviction and strength of character, never subservient nor disrespectful to the monarchy, critical yet fair and even protective of an institution that has fallen out of favor among many. His scenes are as much of a joy to watch as those of Mirren. The film, definitely not spectacular in the way epics or musicals are, works with its simple and intimate touches. Grade: A

Review: The Science of Sleep

When a friend who had failed to watch the film with me asked me how it was, I said, "Crazy kooky mad fantastic." To say that Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep is odd would be an understatement. It makes his earlier film Human Nature look positively mundane. The similarities worried me at the beginning, since I did not really like Human Nature when I saw it. But The Science of Sleep is an altogether different creature, an insane entity that lives and breathes and delights more than it offends with its disregard for convention. The style, using animatronics characteristic of the music video of Björk's "Human Behaviour" (incidentally, directed by Gondry as well) and quirky imagery, are perfect to convey the lead character Stéphane's (Gael Garcia Bernal) confusion of dreams with reality. It's part of the sheer fun of the film (of which it has loads) that the viewers themselves sometimes cannot tell which parts are in Stéphane waking reality and which are in his dreamscape. Are the clouds really floating up the ceiling? Is the one-second time machine really working?

Gael Garcia Bernal is very effectively endearing, showing vulnerability and sensitivity, complementing his child-like tendencies to retreat into his dreams, yet counterpoint to his sometimes vulgar quirkiness. He can be frustrating in his naivette, but Stéphane is also a character that you'll root for and feel a lot of sympathy (at times pity) for. Charlotte Gainsbourg's Stéphanie is an ideal muse to Stéphane, strong-willed yet also open to Stéphane's quirks and confused and hurt by his unpredictable moods. Gainsbourg is not the standard beauty of mainstream cinema (and this is intended in the story), but she has a strong charisma that matches Bernal's own. Among the supporting actors, Alain Chabat as Guy is comically a standout.

If you aren't into odd, quirky films, this film will probably turn you off within a few minutes of its screen time. But you'd be missing the opportunity to see a real jewel of a film: funny, touching, endearing, inspiring. Grade: A

Thoughts on the Cinemanila opening

The 8th Cinemanila Internationa Film Festival, perhaps the best in the Philippines in terms of quality and diversity of films shown, is eagerly anticipated by local movie buffs like me every year. This is the festival where I caught Whale Rider and Dogville before they were shown in most of the rest of the world. That's a big thing when you live in a country that barely gets the good small international films on a wide release (though we usually get the really big ones ahead of many others). So as before, I was really excited about the opening of the Cinemanila. I didn't let the lack of promotion, the late update to the official website, or the general lack of buzz deter me from going to the first screening. I was especially delighted to discover that the opening film would be Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep, one of my most anticipated films of the year. Good start, I thought. A lot of the Oscar-buzzed films that I'd have wanted to see were not in the slate of films, but at least this interesting film will open the festival.

The film was great (read my review), and it was a good thing that it was. Otherwise, my whole experience would have been terrible and I'd have shunned the festival altogether. The official opening of the festival started at 8 pm, when it was supposed to have started at 7 pm (that's a usual thing here, unfortunately). Then several people, including a limelight-hugging attention-desperate government official, made speeches. Said official gave one that lasted for no less than 10 minutes and kept on droning on with the same ideas over and over. When the festival director, Mr. Tikoy Aguiluz, finally proclaimed the official opening of the festival, I heaved a sigh of relief (as did most others there, I believe). I would finally get to see what I had come there to see, 1 1/2 hours after the supposed screening time!

But the organizers had another sneaky, annoying tactic up their sleeve. In the official bulletin, another opening film, the short Infancia en Las Islas de Filipina, Sin Fecha by Raya Martin, was supposed to be shown AFTER Science. Instead, they showed it before. Now, I actually wanted to see this short film, because film afficionados here were all abuzz regarding Martin's earlier silent film (Maicling pelicula nang ysang indio nacional). But for it to be forced upon us after 30 minutes of speeches... I was not in the mood to appreciate the film.

Did I like the Raya Martin short? No. Would I have liked it in any other circumstance? Maybe not. I like silent films a lot, so it's not the common aversion to soundless films that many people have. Period pieces are also a genre that I particularly like. But Infancia was nothing more than a well-meaning (maybe) but ultimately flat, dragging, and even pretentious cacophony of imagery. Granted, some of those images show Martin's much hyped talent and vision, but most others bordered on being gratuitous. The actors in the film range from terrible to amateurish, and that's not a good thing to have in a silent film, where emotions have to make up for the lack of sound. True, many of the silent films released as the silent film era was closing had more restrained performances (unlike those of many Expressionist pictures), but there's a difference between minimalist, restrained acting and simply lifeless acting. Martin's short had the latter.

I have not seen Indio Nacional, so this critique should not be taken as an attack on Martin's person or his craft in general. I would love to see it, if only to know whether Infancia was a misguided follow-up to a masterpiece or simply his second in a series of "artistic" films seeking attention from quality-hungry Filipino film buffs. I would be extremely disappointed if local critics start hailing Infancia as a revolutionary film, or one of stark vision. In these times when foreign film industries are invigorating themselves with fresh ideas truly unique to their respective cultures, we don't need one of these. Filming silent films these days is fine (some themes are even best brought to screen in this style), and of course the setting (Spanish colonial period) is a mine for rich ideas and potentially magnificent films. So abandon the pretentious artsy approach and give us something that we'll remember and cherish, something concrete and whole and powerful.

Am I making too big an issue out of this? Maybe. But I'm not the one who made it the opening film and forced it down our throats. If I had been Martin, I'd have been ashamed of the lengths to which certain people had gone just to have my film seen by the public.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Cinemanila schedule

The 8th Cinemanila International Film Festival is starting tonight with Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg. See you there!

You can check the schedule for the festival films here.

75 Great Performances: #1

1. Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Audrey Hepburn, one of the most beloved actresses of all time, has had many films in which she plays mostly sweet girls, or naughty, tough women with soft hearts. The power of Hepburn is that she makes any role she plays endearing. If asked to pick a favorite Hepburn performance, many may go for her Princess Ann in Roman Holiday, while some may choose Sabrina, or others still Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, or some other role. Many, though not necessarily most, would pick perhaps her most amusingly and memorably named character: Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Who would forget the opening scene of the film, where she eats in front of Tiffany's with a her famous black dress on; or her singing "Moon River;" or her love for "Cat;" or just simply her child-like innocence and radiance? In my humble opinion, Audrey Hepburn has never been as beautiful, or as skilled, as she is in this film. She masterfully portrays Holly as a strong, no-nonsense girl who nevertheless is longing for love in the truest sense. One cannot help but be drawn into Holly's world and want to reach out and comfort her, for despite her confidence, she is fragile and vulnerable. Whatever scene she's in, she shines in it. In the rain, looking for Cat and finding both it and love, she becomes more complete and we love her even more for it.

This may not be the best performance of any actor in terms of sheer skill, but how can we compare on that basis anyway? Definitely, Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly is one performance that will forever stand the test of time and define her as an actress.

#2: Bjork as Selma Jezkova in Dancer in the Dark (2000)


The Grudge 2

It has its creepy moments, since it takes elements from naturally creepy Japanese horror imagery (and the director is that of the original), but The Grudge 2 is nothing special as a horror movie. The acting is all right, the story is so-so, and the fright level is less than what true horror fans would want. As a whole, the film is lukewarm, watchable but ultimately lacking flavor. It could have been better. Grade: C+

World Trade Center

Oliver Stone has atoned for his sin that was Alexander. World Trade Center is a touching, well edited piece that evokes emotions without being overly sappy (though there are points that slightly are). The cast is generally very capable, with Nicolas Cage, a former Oscar winner, being particularly good in his role. The calm before the storm, when Stone shows the quiescent New York before the crashes, makes the succeeding tragedies and triumphs all the more poignant. Just like United 93 before it, this film relies on human emotion and simple techniques rather than on flash. Grade: B+

Marie An

Let me start by saying that it's not as bad as the early reviews say it is. Marie Antoinette is beyond any doubt the most visually beautiful film that I've seen this year so far, and that's saying a lot, since I've seen The Banquet. Its costumes and set pieces and makeup designs are breathtaking. The story is mostly involving, and Kirsten Dunst is worthy of compliments for her understated performance. But the sheer length of the movie and many of its scenes... Sofia Coppola's extravagance spills over to some scenes, making them drag on and on and on long past the point where their expository value has been milked for all their worth. More judicious editing would have made this film at least three times better. There are, however, some very strong sequences that show Coppola's artistry. The score, which is mostly modern rock, may prove distracting and even inappropriate at times, but it is not as big a deterrent as I had expected it to be. Grade: B

Images from IMDb

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New Layout

Thanks to El for the great new layout of this blog! The pictures making up the banner are my favorite films of each decade. Now I'm doubly excited to update this blog regularly.

Monday, October 30, 2006

75 Great Performances: #2

2. Björk as Selma Jezkova in Dancer in the Dark (2000)

The fans of Icelandic pop icon Björk have always known that she is a true artist and have always had an inkling that she would do well in a musical (as evidenced by her performance in the music video for "It's Oh So Quiet"), but we probably never expected that she would be able to give a downright haunting, mesmerizing, heartbreaking portrayal of a blind martyr of a mother. Her role in Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark is typical for the heroines of the director's recent projects (Emily Watson and Nicole Kidman, both on this list), but Björk's quiet energy, never subtler, makes Selma Jezkova one of the more endearing. Just like in many of her more brilliantly understated works, she speaks in whispers in this film, but her eyes are never quiet. In the key scenes of the film, musical or otherwise, her elfish face speaks of an inherent sadness and a strong conviction that effortlessly stir (or twist) the heart of the viewer. Anyone who has loved his or her mother or who has been a mother herself would be drawn in by Björk's almost mystical performance. The last sequence is one of the most agonizing that I've seen in any film, and it is made more astoundingly intense by Björk's amazing handling of what could have been an overly hysterical part. She deservedly won at Cannes but was insanely overlooked by the Academy. Here's hoping that she make another film, blow audiences away again, and prove too hard to ignore by anyone this time. Heck, even with that swan costume, I'd have loved to see her up the stage to receive the Oscar.

#3: Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998)


The Banquet

Zhang Ziyi has shown before that she can act (especially in Kar Wai Wong's 2046), and in Hong Kong's entry to the 78th Academy Awards, Ye Yan (The Banquet), she shines once again and shows why she's China's leading actress. She's more than just a pretty face, though she easily displays both this and her skill in the loose retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Just like in many other recent Chinese/Hong Kong epics, the set designs and costumes are stunning, and the music is suitably grand (though in this film sometimes messy); most of those involved in Ye Yan were the same people Ang Lee worked with in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That means that yes, there are still high-flying martial arts fight scenes here, mostly courtesy of Daniel Wu. They can prove distracting, sometimes even overdone, and the film might have worked more as a whole had subtlety not been cast aside for flash, but here the fights are more akin to a dance and are mostly fluid and lyrical. Aside from Zhang, actress Xun Zhou also gives a strong performance. Grade: B

The Prestige

Wolverine and Batman squaring off in a movie about magicians? I was onboard the moment I heard of the plot, the casting, and the director (Christopher Nolan). I did not let some negative pre-release reviews of The Prestige prevent me from seeing a film that I knew I would at least enjoy. I was not disappointed at all. The viewer can get slightly thrown off by the chronological order of the scenes (especially if he or she is not accustomed to Nolan's style of tweaking with the time element, as he so masterfully did in Memento), but other than that it's a strong headtrip of a movie, with a twist that you would be able to predict early on in the movie without ruining the whole experience. All principal actors, Hugh Jackman (in a dual role), Christian Bale, and Michael Caine, are superb, though Scarlett Johansson fails to shine onscreen. David Bowie is extremely effective in a short role. It is a thought-provoking and riveting film that is every bit as magical as its premise suggests. Grade: B+

The King and the Clown

Just like Hong Kong's Oscar entry, Korea's own, Wang-ui Namja (The King and the Clown), is a very visually appealing movie, with splashes of color in the Korean garb and set designs, and a pretty lead actor to boot. It is a moving film about two street performers/minstrels (played adequately by Woo-seong Kam and bishonen Jun-gi Lee) who land a job as court jesters by mocking the King (Jin-yeong Jeong in a far from endearing performance). Complications arise when the King's tyranny and cruelty abound as a result of the revelatory nature of the acting troupe's skits and are exacerbated by his growing obsession with Gong-gil (Jun-gi). Jun-gi's performance is the flashier here, with Woo-seong's being more subtle but no less effective. The film builds up the tension in the court without rush, and the dramatic scenes near the end are suitably powerful. The ending scene (and the scene accompanying the credits) is poignant and wraps up the film in a beautiful tone of realization and surrender. Grade: B+

Friday, October 27, 2006

Trailer of Notes on a Scandal

The trailer of Notes on a Scandal can be viewed here. It's powerful and searing and shows potentially great performances by co-leads Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. I'm smelling nominations for both of them (lead for Dench and supporting for Blanchett).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

75 Great Performances: #3

3. Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998)

I love Shakespeare In Love more than I probably should (it's my second favorite movie of all time, just after the Lord of the Rings trilogy), but it remains one of the biggest blunders and injustices of the Academy to have given Gwyneth Paltrow the Best Actress statuette over who was the true best actress of that year. Actresses with the name of C/Kate seem to be blessed with uncannily magnificent acting talents (Kate Hepburn and Kate Winslet, anyone?); Australian Cate Blanchett is undoubtedly one of the most respected thespians of her generation, despite having gotten only two Oscar nominations (and one of what should have been two wins). Everyone buzzed her performance as Queen Elizabeth I in Elizabeth for its sincerity and power, but she lost out to then "It" girl Paltrow. The term "breakthrough performance" could not be better applied to any other (though of course Blanchett has been acting professionally before that film). Just like Helen Mirren is being praised this year for bringing out the humanity of the current monarch in The Queen, Blanchett is able to strike a balance between showing the queen who brooked no nonsense and survived the schemes of her enemies and portraying her as ultimately a woman, who could love and get her heart pierced. At times fragile and tentative, at times headstrong and willful, Blanchett went through this prism of emotional states like a true artist best at her craft: with control, precision, and sophistication. Many continue to have issues against Shakespeare In Love winning the top prize that year over Saving Private Ryan. That result could be justified by many reasons beyond the Weinsteins' power. The true injustice that year, with all due respect to Mrs. Paltrow-Martin, was the Academy passing over Cate Blanchett's bravura performance as the queen that she truly is.

#4: Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede in Ran (1985)

Monday, October 16, 2006

75 Great Performances: #4

4. Mieko Harada as Lady Kaede in Ran (1985)

In one of world cinema's best films, the great Akira Kurosawa's Ran, the performances are majestic and forceful, as if they were actors playing in front of gods (Peter's jester Kyoami cries in anguish to them in one key scene). The actors constitute only one part of the glorious scale of this movie, but they are as memorable as the battle scenes and the haunting music and the splashes of red. Her role is neither large nor central to the story (a point that can perhaps be argued), but Mieko Harada's masterful portrayal of the Lady Kaede demands attention--and fear. Her Kaede is a scheming, slinking serpent of a woman. She knows what she wants and she's going to get it, if she has to glare at you with demonic eyes or threaten you with a dagger to do so. Not many actresses could bring such intense fire, sophistication, and a hint of eeriness to the role of a manipulative, ambitious wife. Toshiro Mifune will forever remain the principal actor in Kurosawa's troupe of thespians, but Harada can stake a claim to having one of the most vivid and indelible contributions to the director's craft.

#5: Jodie Foster as Nell Kellty in Nell (1994)

75 Great Performances: #5

5. Jodie Foster as Nell Kellty in Nell (1994)

"Chicka, chicka, chickabee." It may sound like gibberish, but for Nell Kellty, a wildchild with her own language, it speaks volumes. There was a time when the Academy loved the brilliant Jodie Foster, bestowing on her three nominations (two of them wins) in six years. Her last nomination was for playing the title character in Nell, a film that perhaps not many will remember seeing if not for Foster's incendiary performance. Despite the interesting premise, the film is ultimately unremarkable and not very memorable. But Foster lifts it several notches to the level of a film that must be watched for the artistry of its major star. In the hands of a less capable actress, the role would have turned overly demanding of pity and attention. Foster's performance subtly, gently makes us understand Nell's humanity, whether or not she speaks words and in whatever language.

Image source

#6: Maria Falconetti as Jeanne D'Arc in La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc (1928)

Monday, October 09, 2006



Its title is exactly what the film lacks. Pulse is a lifeless thing weighed down by dumb dialogue, logical flaws, and amateur acting. It has some creepy imagery, but it isn't enough to lift the film from a state of utter flatness. Grade: D

Keeping M

Keeping Mum is a delightful British comedy with understated, fine performances by Rowan Atkinson, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Dame Maggie Smith. Thomas and Smith are the definite standouts, though more scenes with Smith and greater development of her wickedly funny character would have been preferred. The last scene makes the film twice as amusing as it is before that shot. A misstep: though he tries, Patrick Swayze was a serious miscast in this viewer's opinion. Grade: B

Akeelah and the Bee

How good or original could a film about spelling bees be? It is easy to expect such a movie as Akeelah and the Bee, about the simple girl Akeelah Anderson who with a little expert coaching (from Laurence Fishburne) and newfound confidence makes it to the National Spelling Bee, to be inspiring. The film achieves that goal effortlessly, and the way it does is original. It has the common elements, yes (among other obstacles, a domineering mother, Angela Basset, who at first prevents Akeelah from joining the Bee), but the way Akeelah gets her groove back after a slump and the outcome of the Scripps National Spelling Bee are little things to be appreciated for elevating this film above similarly themed projects. Keke Palmer (Akeelah), Fishburne, and Bassett all give commendable performances. Grade: B+

Pictures source

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Review: The Departed

Infernal Affairs, the brilliant Hong Kong movie by Wai Keung Lau and Siu Fai Mak on which The Departed was based, is a sleek thriller, with aesthetics typical of the gems photographed by Christopher Doyle. The remake, masterfully directed by Martin Scorsese, is more raw and primal, but in no way is the frenetic energy of the original diminished. Siu Fai Mak and Felix Chong's story is transplanted practically intact to Boston, home of the Irish-blooded gangsters, where Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello is the big boss. Andy Lau's character is played by Matt Damon, while Tony Leung's is played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Jack Nicholson is, as always, sufficiently smarmy and frightfully unpredictable. His is a role that is technically a supporting one that could land nevertheless land him a nomination as lead actor, by virtue of sheer size and gravitas. Nicholson is irresistible as Costello, but there is nothing new to see, and at times he even loses the Boston accent that his character is supposed to have. Despite the importance of his role, Matt Damon isn't given much room to shine, but he makes do with what he is given well enough. It is Leonardo DiCaprio who is given the opportunity to show great range, and he steps up to the challenge astoundingly. This film only serves to convince one that DiCaprio is a truly great actor, who by this time should have already reaped so many more awards than he has. Just like in the original, in which Tony Leung is inarguably the centerpiece, the character of the undercover cop constantly in risk of discovery and death or loss of identity allows its actor much berth for a career performance. A number of critics have hailed DiCaprio's performance here as his best, and it is hard to argue that point. Among the supporting cast, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are absolute scene-stealers, while Martin Sheen and Vera Parmiga contribute fairly good turns in their respective roles.

The Departed has a running time of 149 minutes, but at no point will the viewer feel as if it's taking too long. Such is the power of Scorsese's direction (some cite this as his best work to date, or at least in recent years), the all-star cast, and, of course, the original story (which was rightfully cited). The very minimal departure from the original plot and the slightly forced (and gratuitous) ending sequence are minor factors that barely diminish the overall greatness of the film. Grade: A

Picture source

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Scariest Film Scenes
(What film is this one from?)

Friday, September 29, 2006

75 Great Performances: #6

6. Maria Falconetti as Jeanne d'Arc in La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928)
Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent masterpiece La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc relied on Expressionist motifs and close-ups of the principal actors to get into the raw core of their emotions. The style proved nowhere as irresistible and intense as when it had the camera dwelling on Maria Falconetti, who played the title role of the persecuted saint. In what would be her last and most significant performance, Falconetti's despair, determination, and loyalty cut deep, and only with the movements of her eyes and mouth. If there was ever a doubt that silent films could convey as much emotion and expression, if not stronger, than talkies, one has to watch only a few scenes with Falconetti to forever dispel that notion. Her face is a haunting image of gloom when the situation calls for it, and that is often, for as is commonly known, Jeanne d'Arc's life was tragic, though ultimately redeeming. It could not be said how sound could have affected the film and the performances, but it is beyond doubt that Maria Falconetti's touching portrayal of Jeanne d'Arc is deservedly one of cinema's most unforgettable performances.

Image source

#7: Emily Watson as Bess in Breaking the Waves (1996)