Saturday, June 30, 2012

100 Film Facts About Me

Oh, what better way to commemorate your 1000th post than by blatantly stealing a post idea from another blogger? In this case, yet another post originated by Stevee and with at least a dozen other bloggers following suit with their own posts. (I'm counting down the days before she becomes the most prolific film blogger online.) Anyway, without further ado, the 100 film facts about yours truly.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Last King of Scotland

In one moment early on in Kevin Macdonald's The Last King of Scotland, Ugandan leader Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker) is delivering a speech. Cut to Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) watching Amin speak on the floor below. There's a look of marvel in Nicholas' eyes as he listens to the speech.

Amin actually appoints Nicholas as his personal physician, something Nicholas accepts very graciously. He is thrilled to be working for someone as prolific as Amin. But Nicholas soon sees the true nature of Idi Amin, something that results into a living nightmare.

Although not an entirely true tale, it's still fascinating to watch. Seeing so much promise turn completely sour with the simple change of a personality. It's a haunting sight to behold when you're in its presence.

The performances from Whitaker and McAvoy are superb. Whitaker displays a power-hungry madness underneath a charismatic persona. McAvoy, who should really have an Oscar nod or two by now, is compelling to watch as he goes from bystander to ally to victim of Amin's reign.

The Last King of Scotland in all honesty is a remarkable film. Whitaker and McAvoy are great in their roles. Macdonald presents the audience a cautionary story where the moral is don't believe everything you see. Sometimes it's just smoke and mirrors.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sleepless in Seattle

With Nora Ephron's recent passing, Hollywood lost one of the more clever female writers. Anyone who has seen When Harry Met Sally... can agree with me here.

Ephron's most famous work as a director is without a doubt Sleepless in Seattle. It's easy to see why. It's everything a woman looks for a romance film, and everything a man looks for in a comedy. You don't find these films very often.

Being the classic film lover that I am, the allusions and references to An Affair to Remember made me smile. It's not exactly a film I love with a burning passion, though I admire how Ephron used it as an influence. At least it's a nice tribute to An Affair to Remember rather than a blatant rip-off.

And of course that script of Ephron's is wonderful. Very much like When Harry Met Sally..., the script for Sleepless in Seattle is full of funny moments that are also poignant at times, though it does get soppy towards the end. (My favorite moment was when one character starts crying when she talks about An Affair to Remember, and two others doing the same when they talk about The Dirty Dozen.)

I really liked Sleepless in Seattle, much more than I thought I would. (Well, I am a chick. Aren't we supposed to have a soft spot for chick flicks?) I didn't generally love it, but I might watch it again in the near future.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Lives of Others

A good thriller is one that delivers on the first viewing. A great thriller is one that does that on every viewing. Not many fall into the latter category.

Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's The Lives of Others is one of those few titles. Just the way every scene unfolds is fantastic. Think of it as a German version of The Conversation.

The way Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) behaves in the opening scenes of the film is very much like Harry Caul in The Conversation. Both are heavily devoted to their jobs almost to the brink of obsession. Yet they find the danger of what they do as time wears on and they're too deep to get out unscathed. It's also a hell of a performance from Muhe.

Like the targets in The Conversation, the targets in The Lives of Others have absolutely no idea that their every word is being recorded. In an era where people have to be careful with their every action, this makes the blindness of the targets' own inhibitions all the more staggering. Also, the look of betrayal on Georg's (Sebastian Koch) face when he learns of the wiretapping is just transfixing.

The Lives of Others is a very fascinating film. Since we live in a world where privacy is almost not an option, it's haunting to see the era which practically started the unwavering gaze of Big Brother. Honestly one of the best films of the last decade.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Meek's Cutoff

When films open on a quiet note, meaning no dialogue or music and contains only sounds of the scene, that means the director means business. They aspire to capture the mood just from the images rather than with words. It's a move I personally like.

Kelly Reichardt does such a thing with Meek's Cutoff. In fact, she does that for the first twenty minutes or so of the film. It's a bold move for anyone to attempt it, but Reichardt makes it work.

The tale Reichardt presents in Meek's Cutoff is one of survival. Well, not exactly the characters getting so desperate they resort to cannibalism, but rather they find themselves slowly running out of resources and need to find the essentials quickly before it's too late. It's something straight out of the old westerns.

You know what "cinematography porn" is, right? That's where a film has cinematography so gorgeous and stunning, it's practically obscene. (This is applied to, say, every Terrence Malick film.) That is what Meek's Cutoff proudly displays. Shot by Chris Blauvelt, the film captures vast landscapes of barren ground that's reminiscent of the westerns by John Ford.

Meek's Cutoff in toll is a very well-crafted film. Its slow pace and lack of action might be a problem for some, but not for me. In fact, it really works on a scale this small. Really something you shouldn't skip out on.

My Rating: *****

Monday, June 25, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

I really like Wes Anderson's films. They're sort of the sole reason for why I love movies in the first place, which is to escape reality and forget your troubles by watching someone else's.

Anderson's films always tend to display a simple story played out by eccentric characters. His new film Moonrise Kingdom continues that trend. He always knows how to infuse his films with a certain charm you can't find anywhere else, and this film is full of said charm.

Much like Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris last year, Moonrise Kingdom is a film that's simple in concept and spectacular in delivery. (You don't come across those often enough.) As mentioned earlier, there's a certain charm that's resonant throughout, again a rarity in Hollywood today.

Another noted aspect of Anderson's films is the eclectic nature of the casts. The names range from his motley crew of regulars to actors you would never guess in a million years would appear in a Wes Anderson film. With Moonrise Kingdom, the names include Bill Murray, Edward Norton (!), Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis (!!!), Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel. The stars of Moonrise Kingdom, however, are Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, the protagonists of the film and both very promising young actors.

If I wasn't clear enough, Moonrise Kingdom is a wonderful film. Like Anderson's previous films, The Royal Tenenbaums in particular, it blends humor and sentiment very nicely. Do yourself a favor, and go out and see this.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Yeah, most everyone knows that some sequels don't deliver the goods. Thankfully there are those that are just as good or even better than the original.

With Aliens, James Cameron graciously stayed true to the vision Ridley Scott presented seven years earlier. Hell, he improved it. You got to admire a director who previously worked under the wing of Roger Corman and picked up where a now-known director left off.

One of the improvements Cameron made was making Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) a more prominent character. Scott introduced us to her; Cameron made her a more in-depth role. And Weaver displays what Cameron wrote flawlessly.

In some eyes, this representation of Ripley is somewhat of a feminist's wet dream. Sure, her kicking ass and taking name is pretty awesome, but bear in mind this was released in the 1980's, an era where women were trying to reinvent their image (with shoulder pads and HUGE hair). Though I couldn't help but smile when Ripley said this to the Alien Queen: "Get away from her, you BITCH!"

In short, Aliens is probably the most badass film out there. Weaver definitely delivers here, and I applaud Cameron for making that possible. Badassery, thy name is Ripley.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Yes, we all know of Ridley Scott's sci-fi marvel that is Alien. The chestburster, well, bursting out of John Hurt's chest. The tagline reading, "In space, no one can hear you scream." We all know that. But there's more to it.

One question that I had slightly persisted as I watched Alien. What genre does it qualify under: sci-fi or horror? On the one hand, it's set in outer space so therefore it's a sci-fi film. Yet on the other hand, it's basically the freakiest shit I've seen since God knows when so therefore it's a horror film. I'm just going to say it's both.

Of course you can't talk about a film without even mentioning what went into it. I personally think it was a very smart decision to make Ripley a woman because let's face it. There are enough male heroes out there. Let the women have some fun. (Oh, Ripley was originally written as a guy, so that's why I'm saying that.) Also, the score by Jerry Goldsmith is pretty much the most horrifying score alongside John Williams' for Jaws and Bernard Herrmann's for Psycho.

I'm not sure if this was the screenwriters or Scott's idea, but the immense suspense building up to each appearance of the alien is genius. It's possible that Jaws provided some inspiration for that aspect of Alien, but for now I love that concept.

Much like when I saw The Silence of the Lambs or Halloween or Rosemary's Baby, I'm really grateful I saw this in the middle of the day. I'd probably have nightmares had I saw it at night. Probably.

My Rating: *****

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bells Are Ringing

There's always that great feeling when you see that one film you immediately fall in love with once the credits start to roll. You don't come across those very often.

For me, I saw Vincente Minnelli's Bells Are Ringing, a musical comedy starring Judy Holliday (in her final film) and Dean Martin. Much like when I saw Singin' in the Rain, this film reminded me why I love movies in the first place.

I personally think Holliday is one of the most unsung talents to even perform. From her squeaky-voiced dumb blondes in Adam's Rib and Born Yesterday to her gentle performance in Bells Are Ringing, she always make the screen light up when she's present and especially when she smiles. Also, who would have imagined that a woman who could do a voice that could break glass could also possess a very lovely singing voice?

Martin I already liked in Rio Bravo and a little in The Young Lions. Here in Bells Are Ringing, he is very charming in his role, and his comedic timing is wonderful. Also, try to find someone who doesn't swoon when that man croons. (Very impossible, trust me.)

I just loved Bells Are Ringing. It's just one of those films that you could watch over and over, and not get tired of it. Seriously, just talking about it makes me want to watch it again.

My Rating: *****

Thursday, June 21, 2012


The death of a marriage can be hard on one or both members of the union. Okay, not as much if the couple essentially hates each other more than loves each other.

The best example is shown in Mike Nichols' Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but Jean-Luc Godard also provides such a portrait in Contempt. There's still a flicker of passion between Camille (Brigitte Bardot) and Paul (Michel Piccoli) when we first see them, but that fizzles out by the next scene of them together.

But this film isn't just about a crumbling marriage, oh no. It's also about making a film, in this case The Odyssey directed by Fritz Lang (as himself). Sure, it's not exactly what Francois Truffaut did with Day for Night, but it's also a French director's tribute to cinema though it's not as heartfelt.

Contempt displays many feelings frequently found in foreign films (say that three times fast), but mostly those that are regular in Godard's other work. Such feelings include disinterest, bitterness and, well, contempt. You don't see those feelings on a grand scale in an American production.

Contempt is a very fine film. Along with the acting and Godard's direction, Raoul Coutard's cinematography and Georges Delerue's score are both haunting and beautiful. It's a very bewitching film.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Broken Embraces

I'm bound to like any film as long as the characters are presented in a very compelling manner. (That explains many of the positive reviews here.) I just always like that.

I'm mostly drawn to directors who can do such a thing. One of them is Pedro Almodovar. Judging from what I've seen in Talk to Her and All About My Mother, I knew he could do such a task. (Not bad considering he's still a new name to me.)

His film Broken Embraces continues to display what Almodovar does best: capturing a menagerie of characters in one film, all of them not feeling a note out of place. I think the only other director that could do that was Robert Altman.

The film is a potent mix of love, obsession and, most importantly, cinema. (Seriously, is there a better combination than that?) Many directors try to grasp such a mixture, but I think Almodovar does it best. (Okay, maybe Bertolucci with The Dreamers as well.)

Still, I just love the way Almodovar's style oozes out of every frame. It's a feat that keeps people coming back for more, and I'm one such person. Pedro, you have yet to disappoint me. Keep up the good work.

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fat City

When one era ends and another begins, sometimes they clash. Take the filmmaking eras of Hollywood as an example. Names like Scorsese and Coppola took over where Hitchcock and Kazan left off. Suffice to say not many names of Hollywood's Golden Age fared well when the 1960s were coming to a close.

One of the few names that survived the changing of eras was John Huston. He was still working when many of his contemporaries were retiring or dying off. He didn't mind if some of his later work didn't fare as well as his earlier work; he just kept making films until the day he died.

One of his later entries was 1972's Fat City. Released the same year as The Godfather and Cabaret, it's one of the year's underseen entries. And when one watches it, the style of the film resembles more of Bogdanovich than it does Huston. But that's not a bad thing in the least bit.

The film flip-flops between former boxer Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) and aspiring fighter Ernie Munger (Jeff Bridges). In a way, Ernie is what Tully was in his prime, and Tully is what Ernie will probably become. It's a nice touch to be honest.

It loses its way towards the end, but Fat City holds up throughout the first two-thirds. Keach and Bridges are very good in their roles. And you have to admire that Huston still had that directing stamina within him. Not many directors have that.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, June 18, 2012

Band of Outsiders

Jean-Luc Godard once quipped, "All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun." That quote is definitely in full effect with the many film noirs of Hollywood, but it can also be applied to his own film Band of Outsiders.

The girl is Odile (Anna Karina). The gun belongs to Arthur (Claude Brasseur), the mastermind. There's a third person involved, Franz (Sami Frey), who is an accomplice. The task? Rob Odile's home. (Yes, she knows of the scheme.)

With Godard himself providing narration, Band of Outsiders gives its audience a look of French life with an American twist. Bear in mind this is from the same man who declared, "The cinema is Nicholas Ray." (Not to say that his declaration is a bad thing, mind you.)

I just want to point out a small but subtle detail among the characters. Arthur essentially treats Odile as nothing more than a pawn. Franz, however, treats Odile as a human being. It's this simple observation that shows what the would-be thieves are like.

Band of Outsiders may very well be the film that got me adjusted to Godard. Now with three of his films under my belt, I look forward to what else he has to offer. Because, hey, I'm always looking for another director's work to watch.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, June 17, 2012

All About My Mother

Earlier this year, I was introduced to the world of Pedro Almodovar in the form of Talk to Her. Since then, I've been trying to find the next ideal film of his to watch.

I opted for All About My Mother, the film that earned Almodovar the Foreign Language Film Oscar. (On a similar note, Talk to Her nabbed him a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.) Curious from the acclaim it received, I hoped it would deliver. It did.

Much like Talk to Her, All About My Mother hits in the right places emotionally. Sure, the tale of a woman trying to recover after the sudden death of her son may sound soppy to some, but Almodovar makes sure to add small bursts of humor to soften the blows. (It's very much needed, trust me.)

There have been many comparisons towards All About My Mother, ranging from the styles of other acclaimed directors to famous films. Indeed parallels between this and A Streetcar Named Desire are uncanny, but I would like to view it as a film of its own. But that's just me being, well, me.

Long story short, I loved All About My Mother. I'm now very, very tempted to delve into his other work, though I fear I won't love them as much as Talk to Her or All About My Mother. But who knows? One does not simply second guess.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Double Life of Veronique

Krzysztof Kielslowski's The Double Life of Veronique is a simple least to those who have seen only stills of it. In reality, it's much more deeper.

The film revolves around Polish singer Weronika and French music teacher Veronique, both played by Irene Jacob. Apart from their affinity for music, the two women share no connection, emotional, physical or personal. However, there is a sort of mental bond between them.

It's fascinating to see two different women actually share so much in common. The way Kielslowski depicts it is in a way most directors rarely use: honest and quiet. And the moment where Weronika encounters Veronique is lovely in execution.

There's more to the film than Jacobs' dual roles and Kielslowski's direction. There's Zbigniew Preisner's gorgeous score and Slawomir Idziak's even more gorgeous cinematography. Bear in mind, I haven't felt this way about a film since I first saw A Single Man over two years ago. When the score and cinematography play an important role in a film as much as the acting and direction, that's always a very good sign.

I usually never completely fall in love with a film I rarely knew about prior to watching, but The Double Life of Veronique is one of those very few exceptions. It's a very delicate and beautiful film, which is very rare in cinema nowadays. Saying the film left me speechless is a vast understatement.

My Rating: *****

Friday, June 15, 2012

Young Adult

It's hard to relive your glory days when you're way past them. It's really awkward for other people to witness this.

You can imagine what's running through Matt Freehauf's (Patton Oswalt) mind when he sees Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) in Jason Reitman's Young Adult. She's scheming to win back her high school sweetheart Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), regardless of the fact that he's now married and a new father. He thinks it's an impossible task; she finds no flaws in her plans.

By no means does Mavis' recent bad past justify for her plans. Divorced and currently ghost writing the last book of a popular series, she is perhaps trying to recoup what's left of her rapidly fading youth. However, the sad truth is she's an adult. She needs to face reality.

I think what I admire about Theron's performance is that she plays Mavis not as an immature adult but more as a teenage girl in a woman's body. She acts like a teenager, no denying that. (She dubbed a "psychotic prom queen bitch" in one scene.) Her frame of mind is heavily focused on one goal and one goal alone, which, coming from a teenager herself, is all too common for that time in life.

I very much liked Young Adult. Theron and Oswalt are great, as is Diablo Cody's script. (She even gets a jab at Twilight in there.) Reitman has recently become a favorite of mine, mainly for his ability to capture not-exactly-normal life.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Robert Altman made unconventional films. He never did the same genre twice and each one of his films took his career into a new direction, for better or worse.

One key trademark of his is the use of ensemble casts. Naturally, one has to choose favorites among the many names. For me, the ones that stood out in Nashville were Ronee Blakley as a country star on the verge of a breakdown, Gwen Welles as a wannabe with no talent, and Geraldine Chaplin as a nosy reporter. (Oh, and the Elliott Gould cameo was boss.)

As well as the stars, the key aspect of Nashville is the music. From what I read, many of the songs performed were written by the actors that sang them. If I had to choose favorites for the songs, I'd go with Keith Carradine singing "I'm Easy" (a great scene as well) and Barbara Harris singing "It Don't Worry Me" (also a great scene).

Nashville is also, more or less, about America in general. It shows the way its people live essentially to a T. It's one of those few films that best captures a whole decade effortlessly. And let's face it, Altman was one of the very few names who could do this.

To sum things up, I loved Nashville. The cast is wonderful, but that's expected from an Altman film. I've read constantly that this is an essential film of the 1970s, and now I can see why.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

When one watches A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, they can see the distinction of styles between original director Stanley Kubrick and replacement director Steven Spielberg. Kubrick was the emotionally detached whereas Spielberg is the emotionally involved. And it shows in two characters especially.

Spielberg's style is represented in the form of David (Haley Joel Osment). He longs for the same compassion he is programmed to give, but instead receives contempt. He tries to appease to everyone, but it doesn't work with everyone, which can be applied to Spielberg's recent work.

Kubrick in turn is represented in the form of Gigolo Joe (Jude Law). He is more than aware of the sleazy side of life. Actually, he embraces it to the fullest. He knows of the society he's a part of; he just goes by his own rules.

When the two meet, that is when the two styles clash. David (the innocence Spielberg tends to portray) and Gigolo Joe (the familiarity Kubrick often displayed in his films) are both completely different, and yet somehow it works. Not sure how, but it does.

In toll, however, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence is merely good. The last half hour is a bit of overkill. (For God's sake, Spielberg, keep the bloody aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and that alone.) I did like Law's performance. (Then again, I just like him in general.) Personally this would've been a great film had that last half hour been cut out as if it was a malignant tumor. (Oh wait, it was actually.)

My Rating: ****

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Bad Sleep Well

Like I said yesterday, foreign directors are a bit of a blind spot for me. I have seen a handful of films from several directors of the foreign field, but still I feel as though I am lacking with this spectrum.

One director I have watched a great deal of is Akira Kurosawa. I have seen his samurai epics Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Ran, as well as modern-day films like High and Low and Ikiru (my personal favorite). Yet I feel like I have yet to see his most important work.

I saw The Bad Sleep Well, which many call Kurosawa's take on Hamlet. It's a very interesting tale, but it felt a bit too long in several scenes. Still, Kurosawa's style is marvelous to watch unfold.

Starring Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune, The Bad Sleep Well blends Shakespeare with film noir. A combination that might sound odd to some, perhaps, but they are actually very similar in their themes. Anyone familiar with both can wholeheartedly agree.

Like I said, The Bad Sleep Well is good but I can't bring myself to call it great. I might like it more on a re-watch, but for now I'm sticking with my current thoughts on it. Anyone who's a fan of Kurosawa will be bound to like it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, June 11, 2012

My Life to Live

Amid the many directors I have watched in the last few years, there are those that I haven't seen enough of or none at all. No surprise that it's mostly foreign directors.

One such name is Jean-Luc Godard. I had only seen Breathless, but that was over a year ago. Considering he probably doesn't have much time left on this planet, I had a feeling I should see some more of his work before the time comes.

I opted to watch My Life to Live, released a few years after Breathless. Like that film, My Life to Live revolves around an individual in the vastly populated city of Paris. The distinction between the two films is that instead of focusing on an arrogant criminal, My Life to Live revolves around a quiet woman.

The woman is Nana, played by Anna Karina. Like Guilietta Masina's title role in Nights of Cabiria, Nana has slipped into the world of prostitution. She's not ashamed of what she does, though she longs for something meaningful in her life. It's a very fine performance from her.

I really liked My Life to Live, though I will admit it might take me a while to adjust to Godard's style. I mean, it's good but it's different from other styles I've seen. Still, if he can get very good performance out of his actors like he did here with Karina, then I'll give him a chance.

My Rating: ****1/2

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dance, Girl, Dance

Dorothy Arzner's Dance, Girl, Dance is a different entry from Hollywood's Golden Age. Released the same year as The Grapes of Wrath and The Philadelphia Story, the film was viewed from a different perspective: the feminist perspective.

The film stars Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball as dancers Lucy O'Brien and Bubbles. Both women like dancing, but different types of the art. Judy prefers ballet whereas Bubbles rather do burlesque.

Judy doesn't exactly love her job as a chorus girl. She only does it as a means of getting by. To be honest, she hates being a puppet whose only purpose is to make men ogle. She rather leave people speechless from her talent, not her body.

Bubbles on the other hand loves all of the leers she gets when the spotlight's on her. She could care less at the fact that she's exploiting herself amid complete strangers. She just craves the attention.

Dance, Girl, Dance is quite good, though tints of the standard Old Hollywood film can be seen towards the end. O'Hara and Ball are really good, but Ball practically steals the show. The fact that Arzner made a film like this shows there's some hope for women directors.

My Rating: ****1/2

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Dead Ringers

In the last decade or so, David Cronenberg's film have possessed a normal frame of mind. It's his early stuff that's bound to raise a few eyebrows. (Anyone who saw Videodrome can understand why.)

Take Dead Ringers as an example. It shows the many surreal traits of Cronenberg's works from the 1980s yet it also shows the early signs of the twisted everyday life which is prominent in his recent work. It's that bridge between those trademarks of Cronenberg's that makes the film all the more hypnotic.

The film stars Jeremy Irons in the dual roles of Elliott and Beverly Mantle. Both men share the same profession and apartment, but that's all they share. Everything else between them is completely different, especially their personalities. (It's hard to tell the difference between the two early on, but it gets easier as the film progresses.)

Elliott is the more dominant of the two. He's an arrogant person to many, but he deeply cares about Beverly. It's almost as if there is an invisible bound between them...

Beverly is clearly the more emotionally fragile of the two. He wants to escape the looming shadow of his more successful brother, but his personal demons get the better of him. Between the two brothers, Beverly draws you in almost immediately.

Along with A History of Violence, Dead Ringers displays regular life with a twist of darkness. Irons gives a stunning performance, leaving me to wonder why he wasn't nominated for it. Saying I perhaps have a new favorite Cronenberg film is a bit of an understatement.

My Rating: *****

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Ten Best Directors of All Time Relay Race

Looks like Nostra has got another meme floating around the blogosphere. This time Stevee tagged me for this. First actors, then actresses, now directors. (Wonder what'll be next...) The rules:
So what’s the idea behind the relay? I’ve created a list of what I think are the ten best directors. At the end of the post I, just like in a real relay race, hand over the baton to another blogger who will write his own post. This blogger will have to remove one director (that is an obligation) and add his own choice and describe why he/she did this. At the end the blogger chooses another blogger to do the same. We will end up with a list (not ranked in order) which represents a common agreement of the best directors. If you are following the relay race it is also a great way to be introduced to new blogs!
The previous participants:
And the directors:

Paul Thomas Anderson

Ingmar Bergman

Joel and Ethan Coen

Alfred Hitchcock

Stanley Kubrick

Akira Kurosawa

Hayao Miyazaki

Martin Scorsese

Quentin Tarantino

Now who to omit? Hmm...Anderson, Coen, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Kurosawa, Scorsese and Tarantino are faves, so definitely not them. Bergman I'm starting to like more, so saving him. Although I haven't seen one of his films in years, I'm still keeping Miyazaki. That only leaves one name left, so with deep apologies to Tyler, I'm cutting Krzysztof Kieslowski from the list. (Tell you what, Tyler. I'll watch The Double Life of Veronique to make up, okay?)

Oh, now here comes the "fun" part of making my choice. I would have gone with Billy Wilder because, let's face it, I love his work. But I realized it would be too obvious. After all, variety is the spice of life. And considering I have come across a menagerie of directors in the last few years, many of them dead, I thought I should choose one of them. But there are so many.

Then I got into a New York state of mind. Well, more so I started thinking of directors from my home state. Scorsese and Kubrick are already on the list, so who else? Woody Allen? Maybe. John Cassavetes? Perhaps. And immediately I thought of someone who best captured the Big Apple and wasn't even from there. Who is my mystery director? Sidney Lumet.

Seriously, this man could capture the city just as spectacularly as Scorsese can. (Not bad for a kid from Philly.) He worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, often getting career-defining performances from them. (Examples: Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, Paul Newman in The Verdict, everyone in Network...need I say more?) I had the fortune of hearing him speak at Lincoln Center a few years before he died, and it's honestly an event I will remember forever. Also, how many other directors can you think of that started (12 Angry Men) and ended (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead) their careers not with a whimper but with a bang? (You can imagine how upset I was when I heard of his passing last year.)

Who to pass the baton onto? (I always hate choosing.) Sam is on hiatus, so not him. Andrew? Maybe. No, wait! Variety, remember? I'm passing this onto the splendid and lovely Ruth. I look forward to whom she chooses.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Animal Kingdom

In the first half hour or so of David Michod's Animal Kingdom, we watch Josh Cody (James Frecheville) numbly observe the many antics at the home of his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver). Sounds boring, perhaps, but take into account that what happens in that house isn't exactly normal.

I think what I like most about Animal Kingdom is that it's told from the point of view of a bystander rather than a police officer or a small-time gangster. It allows the viewer to learn of the events at the same time as the bystander. A nice touch personally.

Despite the immense acclaim it won upon its release, there's not much about it that's that great. The pacing doesn't pick up until the final third. The dialogue isn't too special or memorable. Basically, it's all right.

Fortunately, the acting ensemble is top notch. There are three actors I want to highlight. There's Weaver, playing a woman with a sweet veneer and a dark personality. I also liked Guy Pearce, who is becoming a favorite of mine. (Familiar with his American accent, I was taken aback by his flawless Australian accent.) But I just love Ben Mendelsohn, who goes from calm to psychotic in the blink of an eye.

As mentioned, Animal Kingdom is good but nothing too spectacular. Good acting, yes, but not much else. Basically worth a rental.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Night Must Fall

This always happens in Hollywood. You have an actor who is cast in roles where their charm and/or looks are the main focus rather than their acting. And the one role that shows the complete opposite has them playing a remorseless murderer. Anyone who has seen The Boston Strangler or Monster can agree with this statement.

One actor this statement could be somewhat applied to is Robert Montgomery. Throughout his run in Hollywood, he did either playboy roles like Private Lives or light comedy like Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Fortunately Richard Thorpe had faith in Montgomery when he made Night Must Fall, which was as far from any of Montgomery's other roles.

When we're first introduced to Danny, he seems like a respectable member of society. Olivia (Rosalind Russell) doesn't get won over by him like everyone else, simply because she finds something off putting about him. She can't exactly place what it is though.

It's when Danny's alone that we see who he really is. He's clearly a troubled man, but for what reasons? It's when Olivia discovers what secrets he's hiding that makes her even more unsettled by his presence.

Throughout the remainder of Night Must Fall, it's a battle between Danny and, more or less, his sanity. In another actor's hands, this could be an easy role to overdo. But Montgomery is careful not to do such a thing. The result? A performance that should have won him the Academy Award.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Silence of the Lambs

Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is surprisingly calm throughout Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs. Whether facing down Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) or examining a victim of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), she keeps her emotions very well hidden.

I admire that Clarice is an independent woman. She's not someone who has, needs or wants a lover. She doesn't rely on the opinion of a man. She instead is heavily devoted to her job at the FBI. (Hollywood, please provide actresses more role like that.)

The way Hopkins plays Lecter is truly the stuff of nightmares. From his chilling entrance to the unsettling way he speaks, he makes Lecter someone you will never forget. Also, if you didn't freak out from that ad-libbed slurping noise he makes when he tells Clarice what he did to that census taker, you're a braver person than me.

Though Foster and Hopkins won all the acclaim, I can't cap off this review without talking about Levine. Buffalo Bill's modus operandi is a mix between real-life murderers Ted Bundy and Ed Gein, which adds a certain appeal to the role. (Well, at least in my eyes.) He's not as chilling as Lecter, but Buffalo Bill is someone you never want to come in contact with.

The Silence of the Lambs shows the possibility of stopping a crime before it happens. Foster, Hopkins and Levine are great in their respective roles. Personally I'm grateful I saw this in the middle of the day. Lord only knows what I'd be like had I saw it at night.

My Rating: *****

Monday, June 4, 2012

Sex, Lies, and Videotape

As Ann (Andie MacDowell) talks to her therapist about her lack of interest in sex during the opening moments of Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies, and Videotape, her husband John (Peter Gallagher) has a rendezvous with her sister Cynthia (Laura San Giacomo). This scene captures what the film wants to portray: how sex affects people differently.

Enter Graham (James Spader), John's friend. He reveals to Ann that he's impotent, which intrigues her. Here is someone she barely knows and he tells her something deeply personal. Is it possible that he's somewhat attracted to her?

Graham also reveals to Ann that he's working on a video project featuring women talking about their intimate secrets. Is there a reason for this project? Is it so Graham could get off on them or is it for some other personal reason? In a way, it makes Graham all the more curious to watch and try to understand.

The way Spader plays Graham is truly something. He shows Graham as merely a quiet person when in the company of other people but when he's alone, Graham is a deeply troubled man. The look of sadness on his face as he watches Cynthia's tape is striking. It's as if he wants to be attracted to her and other women, but he can't physically show it.

Soderbergh provides a very mature examination of a mature subject. All of the actors, especially Spader, play their parts very well. Sex, Lies, and Videotape is dubbed the driving force behind independent film's popularity and honestly, I can see why.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, June 3, 2012


At times, getting a history lesson from a film isn't exactly the best of ideas. It strictly depends on the subject matter, and how well and interesting it is presented.

Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth is one of those few exceptions. Yeah, a film about Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) might not be a fun subject to watch in film form. But Kapur includes the many events that happened when Elizabeth succeeded the throne, and it's very captivating.

The cast is fantastic. Along with Blanchett, the names featured include Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush, a pre-Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, Richard Attenborough, John Gielgud, Vincent Cassel and a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig. If I had to pick favorites, I'd choose Blanchett, Rush and Eccleston.

Much like The Lion in Winter thirty years earlier, Elizabeth avoids the stuffiness of most other costume dramas by keeping it lively. There aren't many scenes relying on the politics of the time. Instead, there are many witty exchanges between the characters, ranging between dry and biting. If only more costume dramas were like that.

If I wasn't clear enough, I pretty much loved Elizabeth. It's basically what costume dramas should be like: genius, witty and entertaining. Speaking of which...Andrew, got any you could recommend to me?

My Rating: *****

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Shattered Glass

I have a weakness for journalism films, not gonna lie. Hey, Sweet Smell of Success, Ace in the Hole and His Girl Friday are among my all-time favorites. But those journalism films based on real events are even better.

During the opening moments of Billy Ray's Shattered Glass, Stephen Glass (Hayden Christensen) is presented as a respected writer for many big magazines including The New Republic, Rolling Stone, Harper's Bazaar and George. A later scene shows him as a writer who sticks to his ethics. But there's one stunning thing about the great articles he wrote: they're fake.

Why would a promising writer like him forge the facts for a story? In one scene where an article of his is being heavily examined, Glass is clearly under pressure, the terror of being found out sinking in. Also take note of the expression on his editor Chuck Lane's (Peter Sarsgaard) face. You can practically see the gears turning in his head, wondering if his top writer is presenting fiction instead of fact.

The performances from Christensen and Sarsgaard are remarkable. Christensen plays Glass as a scared boy hiding behind the veneer of a confidant man. Sarsgaard portrays Lane as the man Glass strives to be: in control, in a seat of power, someone people can look up to. Both are great, but Sarsgaard steals the show.

Shattered Glass is a great film. Being an aspiring writer myself, this shows what not to do to become a famous journalist. And on another note, can someone explain to me how Sarsgaard has never been nominated for an Oscar yet?

My Rating: *****

Friday, June 1, 2012

BOOK VS MOVIE: The Sun Also Rises

Catching up on reading is hard enough as it is. Throw in the fact I watch an obscene number of films, and it's clear as to why I can only read a scant number of books a year.

I'm finding it easy to catch up on classic films, but classic novels aren't as easy. I mean, you try reading a novel written in a style considered different by today's standards. Especially since I don't have the greatest attention span in the world either. (Hey, look, a cat.)

Still, that didn't stop me from reading Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. It's a great novel, no denying that. After all, the whole novel is practically Hemingway's musings after his experience in World War I. (Mainly saying that because, there's a lot of drinking in this novel, but moving on.)

The film directed by Henry King doesn't exactly fall into the same category. Indeed, Errol Flynn is quite good, but there's an apparent forced air among Tyrone Power and Ava Gardner. I mean, they're good, but they don't feel right for their roles. But something else about the film just doesn't feel right.

Yes, man of the novel/film comparisons I do I tend to side with the film. Only a few times do I side with the novel. In this scenario, I'm siding with the novel because the novel is a bold and gripping tale while the film is...not. Seriously, the film got rid of almost all the good scenes in the novel.

What's worth checking out?: I'd go with the book.