Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Naturally it takes several films of a director's filmography to get interested in their work. There are also those very few times where I get hooked on a director before meeting the requirement of watching five films.

Pedro Almodovar is one of those few exceptions. I was transfixed by Talk to Her, absolutely won over by All About My Mother and enchanted by Broken Embraces. I pretty much knew I had a new director to watch.

Seeing Volver pretty much sealed the deal. Like All About My Mother, the film revolves around a small group of women. The way some of the characters' lives are written, they sound like they're straight out of a cheesy melodrama. But Almodovar knows how not to steep to that level.

Penelope Cruz, who is dubbed Almodovar's muse, is great here. In films like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, she's viewed as a Spanish sexpot. In the films she does for Almodovar, she shows her abilities as an actress. And boy, does she nail her role in Volver.

Volver is a wonderfully written drama that you don't find often enough. (Thank you, God, for creating Almodovar.) The main actresses, Cruz especially, make these roles their own. And Pedro? You have a new admirer of your work.

My Rating: *****

Monday, July 30, 2012

Late Spring

The most famous director of Japanese cinema is Akira Kurosawa. I partly agree with that because Kurosawa is the one Japanese director I'm most familiar with, but this statement could also prevent people from seeing the work of other Japanese directors.

Another great but underappreciated name of Japanese cinema is Yasujiro Ozu. From what I read about him, he was a poet with his films. Being the curious cinephile that I am, I decided to check out one of his films.

The film I checked out was Late Spring. Although not as well known as his magnum opus Tokyo Story, this film is a quiet piece of art. Just watching it made me realize Ozu's status among film devotees.

The story of a father trying to marry off his daughter sounds simple in concept but is grand in execution. The reason? Along with Ozu's direction, it's Yaharu Atsuta's cinematography and Senji Ito's music that make the film come alive. (Boy, what is it about foreign films with great cinematography and music?)

Late Spring is one of the more beautiful post-war films. Ozu really knew how to make a film. Expect to see more musings of his films in the future because I think I found a new director to watch.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Belle de Jour

This is just an odd habit of mine. If there's a prominent director whose work I haven't seen yet, I will find a notable film of theirs and watch it. (This is why I never feel embarrassed when talking about directors.)

One of my latest conquests was Luis Bunuel. I heard of a lot of his films, but had never really set out to see any of them. (I was more or less acquainted with Bunuel from his "appearance" in Midnight in Paris.) I knew I had to see a film of his sooner or later, so I did that.

The film in question is Belle de Jour starring Catherine Deneuve in what many call her best work as an actress. And it's also a doozy of  a film. (What else do you expect when the film opens with the leading lady fantasizing about being beaten and raped?)

Deneuve is a marvel to watch. Like her work in Repulsion, her character's face remains blank throughout regardless of what is said to her. It just leaves you wondering what exactly is running through that mind of hers.

Belle de Jour possesses both class and surrealism, which from what I heard is Bunuel's filmography in a nutshell. Deneuve is alluring both looks-wise and acting-wise. I see why this is an essential among art lovers.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Autumn Sonata

When an actor performs their swan song, it's usually rare for it to match that of their more famous work. When it does, it's practically a miracle.

One example is Ingrid Bergman in Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata. Two of Sweden's finest contributions to the world of film working together. And boy, what they do together sure is mesmerizing.

Autumn Sonata also stars Liv Ullmann, a regular of Ingmar's. She was thoroughly impressive with her almost mute performance in Persona. Here in Autumn Sonata, she speaks of her emotional pain through her words and face. It's a great performance from Ullmann, though I'm more fond of her work in Persona.

The fact Ingrid still looks gorgeous in her later years is a crime in itself. Throw in the fact she's still giving great performances towards the end of her life, and you know why she's ranked among the greats of the silver screen. Here, she doesn't express her regrets of her past, but you can definitely tell she can feel it.

Autumn Sonata is very hypnotizing in its subject matter. Most films about the same matter tend to sugarcoat everything. Like Ingmar is interested in that. Definitely one of the best titles from the 1970s.

My Rating: *****

Friday, July 27, 2012

Kiss Me Deadly

Film noirs from the 1950s pretty much broke all of the ethical rules. Why not since everyone was so paranoid about communism and nuclear warfare? Might as well let Hollywood go a little crazy too.

Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly is one such film noir. Based on the novel by Mickey Spillane, this has more pulp than an orange. And it's sleazier than anything else the decade had to offer. (Yes, even more than Ace in the Hole and Sweet Smell of Success.)

Many of the sci-fi titles of the 1950s were thinly disguised movies about the Cold War. Kiss Me Deadly also provides that commentary. Aldrich sensationalizes it to the nth degree, and it just works.

Is Kiss Me Deadly an exploitation film? Not really, though it could be viewed as one under certain circumstances. After all, there are no definitive heroes in this, and the villains are just as bad as the "hero" morally.

Kiss Me Deadly is quite good, though it gets to be a bit much after a short while. Bear in mind this was made in a period of Hollywood where happy endings were always expected regardless of what happened in the film. Does Kiss Me Deadly have one? I won't say that, but I will say it's a real doozy of an ending.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bus Stop

Marilyn Monroe is always regarded as the sex symbol. But like many stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, her real image was very unlike her screen image.

In many of her films, she tended to play the ditsy blonde as shown in How to Marry a Millionaire and All About Eve. But a number of her later films like Some Like It Hot and The Misfits showed Monroe as a vulnerable woman, which was what she was. It was when she did the latter role that got people talking.

Monroe's work in Joshua Logan's Bus Stop falls into the latter category as well. After all, when we first see Cherie, she's being manhandled by a number of ogling men. It's not the first time it has happened to her and after meeting Bo (Don Murray), it won't be the last time either.

Cherie is similar to Sugar Kane. Sugar has a bad history with a number of men. Cherie only had a few sloppy affairs, but it's who she had them with that makes them stand out. Bo is like one of her many botched flings. Sounds like heaven, but it's actually hell. (Also, the moment when Cherie speaks of what she looks for in a man wasn't Cherie speaking. It was Marilyn.)

Bus Stop in toll is pretty good. You really feel for Cherie once we see her and you don't stop. The ending kind of spoils the mood of the rest of the film, but Monroe stays vibrant throughout. You have to admire an actress like Marilyn Monroe.

My Rating: ****1/2

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Many people are aware of Alfred Hitchcock being nominated five Oscars and losing each time. What some people probably don't know is that one of his films won the Oscar for Best Picture.

The film in question is Rebecca, which got Hitchcock a Best Director nomination. (The other four in question are Lifeboat, Spellbound, Rear Window and Psycho.) This one is different from some of Hitchcock's later titles because doesn't rely on suspense; it relies on a looming presence.

The looming presence is that of Rebecca de Winter. Her widower Maxim (Laurence Olivier) is haunted by her death, as well as her maid Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson). Maxim's second wife (Joan Fontaine) sees what impact Rebecca left behind.

The performances from the three principal actors are fantastic. Olivier just radiates a mysterious allure in Maxim. Fontaine gets the mousy behavior of her character just right. But Anderson is the scene stealer of Rebecca. Her stoic face and dead gaze emulates creepiness. She makes Norman Bates look normal in regards with obsession.

Oh, Rebecca just screams "directed by Alfred Hitchcock". (That's a good thing, of course.) Subtext galore and good-looking actors that are sharply dressed? Yep, Hitchcock. Also, this is probably one of the few times AMPAS got it right for Best Picture. (Just saying.)

My Rating: *****

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Great Re-Casting

Allow me to explain. Rianna and Natalie are hosting a blogathon where the goal is to re-cast a film made between 1965 and today with actors from before 1965. Of course for me, it was a little hard to think of a good film to re-cast since many of my favorites are pre-1965. But I thought hard, and the film I came up with was Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr. Ripley.

The film's set in the 1950's, so I'll feature actors from that time period. Oh, this should be so easy since many of my favorite actors made it big during that decade. Anyway, here goes nothing.

Peter Smith-Kingsley
A friend of Marge's who develops a sort of kinship with Tom, unaware of who Tom really is.
Originally played by: Jack Davenport

My Choice: Anthony Perkins
Keep your thoughts of Psycho at bay as I explain. I wanted an actor who could play someone that was naive but trusting. Perkins, in fact, is that in his first few scenes in Psycho. (Might seem a trifle awkward with who I have as Marge.)

Meredith Logue
An heiress who, going by his introduction to her, thinks Tom is Dickie.
Originally played by: Cate Blanchett

My Choice: Jean Simmons
I wanted an actress who had class, beauty and elegance but not too much of it. (Safe to say Audrey Hepburn was out of the running.) Jean is sort of the poor man's Audrey (not that it's a bad thing, mind you), so she was the ideal choice.

Freddie Miles
A good friend of Dickie's but someone Tom views with contempt (and vice versa).
Originally played by: Philip Seymour Hoffman

My Choice: Ernest Borgnine
Anyone who's seen From Here to Eternity knows Ernest could play a complete S.O.B., so naturally I took that into account. Yet at the same time, Ernest could play a real swell guy to hang out with (which is what Freddie is to Dickie), so that also provides good reason to cast him.

Marge Sherwood
Dickie's fiancee, who welcomes Tom openly but grows deeply suspicious of him as time wears on.
Originally played by: Gwyneth Paltrow

My Choice: Janet Leigh
Considering who I've chosen for Dickie, this one seemed like a no-brainer. That, and I wanted an actress like Paltrow, someone who possessed a natural beauty and talent to match. Janet was my go-to girl.

Dickie Greenleaf
A millionaire's son taking refuge in Italy, he uses people and lives life the way he wants to.
Originally played by: Jude Law

My Choice: Tony Curtis
Again, another no-brainer on my part. A gorgeous actor who can be sexy and sleazy at the same time? I've seen Tony do that enough times to know he's ideal for this part.

Tom Ripley
He appears to be a charming and innocent young man, but in reality he's a con man who craves a life of luxury.
Originally played by: Matt Damon

My Choice: Farley Granger
You're probably thinking, "Who?" If you've seen Rope or Strangers on a Train, then you'll know who he is and what kind of character he could play. He can appear calm but his mind can be troubled. His worries are hidden behind a handsome face. In short, the very being of Tom Ripley.

Huh. I deliberately didn't mean to pick actors who have worked with Alfred Hitchcock (Granger, Leigh, Perkins), but it gives them an added bonus as to how to act in a thriller. Also, an Oscar winner and four nominees in one cast? Sounds good to me. (Not as great as the original cast of four Oscar winners and one nominee, but it works for me.)

So what do you think of this classic re-cast?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Amid a summer full of big budget movies, it's nice to balance it all out with an independent film or two. (I try to do the opposite when it's Oscar season.)

For me, I saw Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild. It's a bit of a bold film. Its actors are unknowns, it revolves around an event which mirrors that of one that happened not so long ago, and it's told from a child's perspective. Oh, and this is Zeitlin's debut as a director. And yet, everything just falls into place splendidly.

Most independent films have a certain charm to them whether it be from the actors or the story. With Beasts of the Southern Wild, it's both. The way both the characters and the story are played out is just wonderful. I wonder what Zeitlin's influences were for this.

Now onto the actors. Dwight Henry leaves a lasting impression when he's on screen, but it's Quvenzhane Wallis' performance that's indelible. The fact this is a great performance from a child is astonishing. Can you imagine what would happen if she got nominated for an Oscar?

Beasts of the Southern Wild is a fantastic film. The cinematography from Ben Richardson is just stunning, another aspect of this film that should get some awards love. Seriously, go out and see this while it's still in theaters. Seeing it on the big screen adds to its allure.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

When there's anticipation for a film, the results are either sink or swim. However, if it's in the hands of a trusted director, the results are usually in the "swim" category.

Christopher Nolan is one such director. His past seven films had stirred up an interest from both critics and audiences alike. His newest film The Dark Knight Rises does the same. It's much more dark and brutal than the previous two yet it's just as bewitching.

Like Nolan's previous films, the cast is just to die for. Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman reprise their roles and do exceptionally well, Bale and Caine in particular. But it's the new faces that reign supreme. Tom Hardy, though not as menacing as Heath Ledger in the previous film, is a brute force of nature not to be reckoned with. Joseph Gordon-Levitt remains one of the very few people who still has faith in Batman, a risky move especially being in a city that branded him a pariah. Marion Cotillard, like in Inception, radiates in the limited screen time she has. And Anne Hathaway just emulates femme fatale chic.

The Dark Knight Rises contains several scenes that echo events of the recent past. Could Nolan be providing a social commentary amid a a comic book film? It's very likely, but I myself won't go into grand detail about it.

The Dark Knight Rises in the wrong hands could have fallen apart easily, especially with a 165-minute running time. But Nolan knows what he's doing. (Thank God.) Hans Zimmer's score and Wally Pfister's cinematography capture the dark nature of reality excellently in a film that showcases that very thing. Well played, Mr. Nolan.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Naked Kiss

Oh, what better way to open a film than by showing the protagonist beating up another character? In the case of Samuel Fuller's The Naked Kiss, the protagonist is Kelly (Constance Towers) and her target is her pimp.

Kelly changes her career choices and become a nurse. The town where she relocates appears to be a slice of Americana but like Kelly herself, it's hiding a few dark secrets of its own.

Fuller makes no bones about some of the risque material in The Naked Kiss nor does he feel the urge to shy away from it. Like his previous film Shock Corridor, this was made during a restriction-dominated era of Hollywood. Did Fuller give a damn about it? Nope.

Towers is a real firecracker as Kelly. She has morals but they're not what you would expect, especially coming from an ex-hooker. This is the kind of role that was rare for actresses back in the day. And Towers adds to this explosive performance.

The Naked Kiss may not be suitable for everyone, but it sure is a hell of a film to watch. Along with Fuller's direction and Towers' performance, there's also some seductively sleazy cinematography from Stanley Cortez. And to think this was released the same year as My Fair Lady, the very thing one would not describe Kelly.

My Rating: *****

Friday, July 20, 2012


Everyone knows that David Mamet is a great writer. (Hey, you watch Glengarry Glen Ross, and you'll see why.) It's that way of writing that makes him renowned.

His most recent film Redbelt displays the dialogue that Mamet is famous for. It's a sort of natural manner of speaking, but not completely. It displays repetition, which may be irksome to a certain crowd but it works for Mamet because most of his work has a lot going on.

Redbelt is such an example. Indeed it has Mamet's trademark repetition, but the many goings on throughout is a bit of a problem. Mamet tries to balance out them all out evenly but alas, he fails to do so. It's a small complaint to be honest.

The actors of the film are very good, most notably its star Chiwetel Ejiofor. He's one of the few British actors that's not as heavily sought after. (Another is Idris Elba.) He has charisma, looks and, of course, talent, all on display in Redbelt. Hopefully he'll get his due. (Maybe in Twelve Years a Slave?)

Redbelt is a very well-acted film with biting dialogue, but it's how the film is constructed that's the notable flaw. Mamet tries but only succeeds for about 80% of it. Still, it shows Mamet has still got it.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Shock Corridor

Oh, the things a writer will do for the sake of their own crooked reputation. Chuck Tatum left a man fighting for his life. J.J. Hunsecker got a slander published to ruin a man's reputation.

What did Johnny Barrett (Peter Breck) do for his story? Nothing too out of the ordinary, just having himself committed to a mental hospital. The reason for this? To solve a murder that happened within its walls.

Samuel Fuller provides a very explosive tale in the form of Shock Corridor. Don't expect something in the vein of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest nor a trashy B-movie. This is a film that's a league of its own. (What else do you expect from a film with killer opening lines like this: "My name is Johnny Barrett. I'm a reporter for the Daily Globe. This is my story...as far as it went.")

Of course, for films like this, it's the details that went into it that matter. In this case, one crucial detail is Stanley Cortez's cinematography. The way he shows the dark corners of the human mind is hypnotizing. It's the type of cinematography most films wish they had.

Shock Corridor is, unsurprisingly, a shock to watch. To think a film like this was made in an era of Hollywood where regulations were the norm. This is a film that breaks all the rules, and we have Fuller to thank for it.

My Rating: *****

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

This is a known fact among the entertainment industry. All it takes for worldwide recognition is some exposure in something popular. (Seriously, take into account how many singers got big after competing on American Idol.)

Take into account The Amazing Spider-Man. Its director Marc Webb (fitting name) got recognized after his debut (500) Days of Summer premiered three years earlier. The following year, its stars Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone got recognized from their work in The Social Network and Easy A, respectively.

Now I haven't seen any of Sam Raimi's movies, so I can't provide any comparisons. However, I can say that I was thoroughly entertained with what Webb offered his audience. There were some complaints among those who saw this and Raimi's movies, but I ignored them. You're supposed to enjoy a movie like this, not criticize.

Garfield possesses a certain charisma that's reminiscent of the stars of Hollywood's yesteryear. He plays Peter Parker not as someone who finds himself completely devoted to ridding crime. He plays him as who he is: a teenager. And going by the other work of his that I've seen, I can tell he's sticking around for some time.

Haters say what you want about this. I really liked The Amazing Spider-Man, probably more than I should have. Garfield and Stone have great chemistry, and Webb makes it possible. Try to catch this when it's still in theaters.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


The opening moments of Stephen Gaghan's Syriana depict a small moment of quiet tranquility. No dialogue, just the calm before the storm so to speak.

Seven years later, the subject material of Syriana is still relevant. The subject matter in question? Relations between the United States and the Middle East. It's not as hotly discussed as it was back in 2005, but it's still discussed regardless.

The way Syriana is constructed is done in a style that's now common for many independent films nowadays (ie, Babel, Contagion). That said, the way this film is constructed isn't as well done. You'd think the man who wrote Traffic would be able to pull the same stunt twice.

The cast is quite good. Among the names in Syriana are George Clooney, Matt Damon, Christopher Plummer, Jeffrey Wright and Chris Cooper. They're all solid, but Clooney and Damon are the top performers here.

Syriana is good, but a few flaws among the script prevents it from being great. The cast is good as well. Thanks to Gaghan, he gives his audience insight of a world issue that no one could turn away from (and, in a way, still can't).

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, July 16, 2012

Annie Oakley

When one hears the name George Stevens, you immediately think of either A Place in the Sun or Giant. His other work usually gets put in the shadows.

Take for instance Annie Oakley. Starring Barbara Stanwyck as the famed sharpshooter, the film displays the role differences of a certain era. Not many films from this decade like this were common.

As shown in the film, the thought of a woman sharpshooter was unheard of. A woman should be in the kitchen, not outside firing a gun. Annie, of course, managed to put women in a more respectable light.

That said, Stevens sort of sticks with that. He doesn't feel the urge to venture into any new material (except maybe a weak romantic subplot). However, what he shows is quite good.

Annie Oakley in toll is good for entertainment value but not much else. Stanwyck is good, but she usually is anyways. All in all, Annie Oakley is an amusing film but that's sort of it.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Palm Beach Story

If there was one director who could do screwball comedies the best, that director would be Preston Sturges. I myself have only seen one other of his films (Sullivan's Travels), but I know excellence when I see it.

I opted to see The Palm Beach Story starring Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea, both actors I previously saw in one other film each. (Colbert in It Happened One Night, McCrea in Sullivan's Travels.) That said, I knew both were very good at what they do.

I saw somewhere that The Palm Beach Story provided some influence for Some Like It Hot seventeen years later. Indeed a few moments in Sturges' film could be viewed as reference points for Wilder's film, but both films and directors' styles are completely different. Still, just felt like bringing that up.

Speaking of directors' styles, I think what made Sturges so notable was that his comedies could be completely over the top and no one would mind. Oh, and the dialogue is so wonderful to hear coming from the actors' mouths. It's just the simple things that make a film fun to watch.

The Palm Beach Story is a very amusing film to watch unfold because you simply don't know what'll happen. The banter between Colbert and McCrea provides some very good entertainment. This is comedy at its finest.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Brothers Bloom

Rian Johnson was introduced to the film industry in the form of the neo-noir Brick. Later this year, his third film Looper will be released. But what did Johnson do between these two films starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt? The comedy crime caper The Brothers Bloom.

Starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz and Rinko Kikuchi, the film is a throwback to heist films of the 60s and 70s. (Johnson cited The Sting as an inspiration, and Paper Moon as an influence.) Though its style is more reminiscent of Wes Anderson's work than that of Brick.

The fact that Johnson got three Oscar winners (Brody, Weisz, Maximilian Schell), an Oscar nominee (Kikuchi) and a future Oscar nominee (Ruffalo) in his cast is interesting. Bear in mind Brick had a number of unknowns in its cast, so getting a roster of actors like that is impressive, especially for a sophomore effort. (Then again, the scope of names Steve McQueen got for his third film Twelve Years a Slave is fucking amazing.)

Just a small observation. It's amusing that the four leads look like they just came from a magazine photoshoot. If I had to say which ones, it would probably be GQ for Brody and Ruffalo, maybe Harper's Bazaar for Weisz, and maybe an alternative fashion magazine for Kikuchi. (I'm not very good at naming fashion magazines.)

The Brothers Bloom is very clever, a rarity among films nowadays. The actors play their parts fantastically. This is one of those films that gets more and more fun with each viewing...at least that's what I'm told.

My Rating: ****1/2 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Young Philadelphians

The opening scenes of Vincent Sherman's The Philadelphians provide the backdrop of a possible scandal. Fortunately for those involved, it goes unnoticed by the public and stays unnoticed.

Fast forward to many years later. Tony Lawrence (Paul Newman) is part of a prominent Philadelphia family. He also shows promise as a lawyer. The duration of The Young Philadelphians depicts Tony's rise to the top as a lawyer.

The film also shows the many personal dilemmas Tony encounters, many of them involving women. Either he rejects them or they reject him. It feels unnecessary to be honest, but this is from 1959. Romantic problems of the main characters were practically a requirement back then.

In regards with the acting, there's some notable work from the supporting cast. The most notable work is from Robert Vaughn, who plays the black sheep of another prominent family. But this show belongs to Newman. After all, this man made acting look easy.

The Young Philadelphians is good, but its running time of 136 minutes is 20 minutes too long. Newman is very good but then again, he almost always is. Appearing to be a courtroom drama laced with scandal, it actually pales in comparison to Anatomy of a Murder released the same year. However, if you like this sort of film (or, more specifically, Paul Newman), then it's worth a look. That said, it's not too memorable.

My Rating: ****

Thursday, July 12, 2012


In my eyes, animated movies are solely for entertainment. That said, Pixar always tend to provide both entertainment and heartfelt moments. (Try finding one title of theirs that won't get you choked up.)

Pixar's newest entry Brave directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman does provide what its previous entries displayed, however not as effectively as WALL-E or Up. Still, it's a fun movie to watch regardless.

For an animated movie, the scenery is stunning. Every scene looks like a photograph. The eye for detail is just amazing. I don't know how long it took to make Brave, but the many contributions from the animators are very well done.

I think what makes most films from Pixar stand out so much is that they always capture a certain magic. Sure, some live-action films do that as well, but Pixar is the only studio that captures this particular magic. And I love it.

Brave in total is good but not great like Pixar's earlier titles. It's definitely something for the family but it's maybe not suitable for young children. It's good but it's more suitable for a DVD night.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Shallow Grave

I like Danny Boyle's work. I liked Trainspotting, I thoroughly creeped out by 28 Days Later, and I thought Sunshine was pretty good. It was the stage production of Frankenstein that made me appreciate him more.

I decided to check out his debut Shallow Grave, featuring Kerry Fox, a pre-Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, and a pre-everything Ewan McGregor. The film is presented as something simple in the beginning but in the span of 93 minutes, Boyle gives his audience a glimpse at how twisted the human mind can become.

There are allusions to the work of Alfred Hitchcock throughout Shallow Grave. Not in the matter of suspense, but rather with the perverse delight a Hitchcock villain can get from their actions. It's a simple touch like that which makes the film all the more alluring to watch.

Of the three main characters, it's Alex (McGregor) and David (Eccleston) who switch their statuses. (Juliet (Fox) is only a witness to the many events that unfold in the film.) Alex is essentially an asshole while David is the quiet target of Alex's jokes, but then David becomes the one in control with Alex and Juliet as his victims.

It may be too dark for some, but I really liked Shallow Grave. You can see the benchmarks of Boyle's other films throughout this (as well as seeing how McGregor became a star from this). Graciously, the Criterion Collection gave Shallow Grave its special treatment, so you have no real reason to pass this up.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Fright Night

There are two types of vampires: the brooding, slightly handsome type and the purely evil type. What category does Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) of Craig Gillespie's Fright Night fit into? Thankfully the latter category. (Though he does fit a little into the former category too.)

Of course, playing a vampire relies more than just having a pretty face. An actor has to be able to play someone with a complete disregard for human life. Farrell does just that with a touch of devilish charm. Also, is it bad to be attracted to a vicious killer?

Anton Yelchin provides some amusement as the main character of Charley Brewster. However, the way Charley is written is the typical teenager found in a horror movie: wants to get laid, confused by the regular moments in his life, things like that. Still, Yelchin makes the most of his role.

For me, I was thoroughly entertained by David Tennant as Peter Vincent. I think it was the thought of seeing The Doctor as a goth vampire expert that made it amusing. He traded in the brown suit and Converse high tops for leather and guyliner. (Honestly, that ass in low-cut leather pants. Yum.)

The main appealing factor of Fright Night is the fact that it doesn't take itself seriously. That's what makes it so amusing. There are gaps in the story, it gets ridiculous towards the end...who cares? Just watch for some spooks and laughs.

My Rating: ****

Monday, July 9, 2012

Leon Morin, Priest

Many of Jean-Pierre Melville's films revolve around the criminal underworld or simply people who go against what the government wants. The characters usually have no feelings for society or other people, sort of like the director himself.

However, his film Leon Morin, Priest is different from Army of Shadows or Le samourai. The film revolves around the one thing the characters in Melville's other films would merely scoff: religion. And like many films about religion, Leon Morin, Priest focuses on an individual wrought by a sort of religious belief.

In this case, the individual is Barny (Emmanuelle Riva), a widow with a young daughter. She finds solace in the teachings of Father Morin (Jean-Paul Belmondo). However, as time wears on, she becomes less concerned about the teachings and more about Father Morin.

Leon Morin, Priest is not afraid to show emotion unlike Melville's other more aloof films. It's also different because the main protagonist is female rather than a chauvinistic male. It's really a far cry from anything Melville would later do; that's what makes it stands out.

Leon Morin, Priest is a very compelling film to watch. In less than two hours, the viewer watches a woman go from non-believer to witness to of a vision to God fearing. And Riva makes this performance her own. Belmondo, famous for his nonchalant role in Breathless, gives an equally transfixing performance. And Melville shows he can do more than American-influenced crime films.

My Rating: *****

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Lone Star

When one has a spotless reputation, it can shock everyone when it's revealed they have a few vices. A family man carrying on an affair. A churchgoer who is abusive. A law-abiding citizen committing murder.

John Sayles' Lone Star provides such a possibility. Sam Deeds (Chris Cooper) lives under the weight of his father's status as the county sheriff, the role Sam now holds. A skeleton is unearthed on the outskirts of town, and Sam starts to believe his father may not have been the upstanding lawman everyone says he was.

Sure, that premise sounds a bit hokey but Sayles makes Lone Star anything but. It's not a strict crime film; it's rather an observation of the many people in one small Texas town. And the way Sayles depicts it in a way so absorbingly, all we can do is watch.

The cast is fantastic. Cooper is great but then again, he usually is. Among the supporting actors are a wonderfully wicked Kris Kristofferson, a surprisingly adept Matthew McConaughey, and a quietly warm Elizabeth Pena. God bless the casting director for choosing these actors.

Lone Star is extremely well done. Along with the actors, there's also a great script by Sayles and lovely cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh. It's really something you shouldn't miss.

My Rating: *****

Saturday, July 7, 2012


There are three eras in the world of film that are widely celebrated. There's the New Hollywood era, which introduced audiences to the likes of Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg. The French New Wave got Godard, Truffaut and Chabrol recognized. The Italian neorealism era had filmgoers going, "Buongiorno!" to Fellini, Rossellini and Visconti.

Another prominent director of the latter era was Vittorio De Sica. His most famous work (and the most prolific film from that era) was The Bicycle Thief, a beautiful and devastating piece of art. Two years earlier, De Sica made Shoeshine, which is perhaps even more devastating than his magnum opus. Why? Its protagonists are children.

Giuseppe (Rinaldo Smordoni) and Pasquale (Franco Interlenghi) are very close friends and witnesses to poverty in war-era Italy. Soon they find themselves in police custody for a crime they had no involvement in. As they spend more time behind bars, their friendship slowly starts to crumble.

The fact that the main characters for Shoeshine are children gives the film a compelling perspective. Their innocence is projected in every scene in a nice, delicate balance rather than in overindulgence. Oh, if more directors did that task, that'd be super.

Shoeshine is just a very heartbreaking film. (If you don't believe me, just read Pauline Kael's thoughts on it.) Honestly, tissues might be needed throughout.

My Rating: *****

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Pawnbroker

With Sidney Lumet's death last year, we lost one of the undisputed great directors. Not many could make films like him. The most prominent aspect of his films was that he could always get great performances out of his actors.

One such example is Rod Steiger in The Pawnbroker. His character of Sol Nazerman is a square peg in the round hole that is 1960s New York City. He just doesn't fit in the fast pace of the city.

Sol tries to go on with his day without letting the regular flux of customers getting the better of him. The customers don't know of the life Sol led, so they just assume his behavior as unusual. In fact, he has to keep his composure to keep from falling apart.

One aspect of The Pawnbroker that stands out as much as Steiger's acting is Boris Kaufman's cinematography. Kaufman captures the hustle and bustle of both the city and Sol's mind. He also shoots the many gates in Sol's pawn shop as a way of rendering him a prisoner of his own life. Then again, what else do you expect from the same man who shot On the Waterfront?

The Pawnbroker is an underrated title of Lumet's filmography though it's not as great as 12 Angry Men or Network. It starts slow but gradually rises to a decent pace. It also loses something when Steiger's not on screen. Still, it's very much worth a look if you're a fan of Lumet.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

There are always those misunderstood movies that come around about every year or so. Sometimes the critics don't like them. Other times they just don't capture the right audience. The result either way is that these movies deserve a second chance.

Take Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as an example. I was already familiar with Wright from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (although I shamefully admit I've yet to actually see them). I figured an appropriate introduction to his work would be his most recent movie.

Did I get what I wanted out of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World? You bet I did, and more. It's pretty much the most awesome movie I saw this year. (Well, next to The Avengers.) Also, I can't be the only one who thought it was amusing that Ramona used to date Captain America AND Superman.

It's the many aspects that went into the movie that I like, such as the actors (Kieran Culkin was my favorite) and the fight scenes (Wright likened them to song and dance numbers in musicals but with more punching and ass-kicking). However, my favorite thing about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was its many quotable lines. (I pretty much lost it at "Chicken isn't vegan?")

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is pretty awesome. Sure, there were a few flaws here and there, but it's still really fun to watch. Oh, and if you're buying this on DVD, Blu-ray is a must.

My Rating: ****

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Remember when the news broke that Ridley Scott was making a prequel to his insanely successful Alien? Many opinions towards the story were leaning to the iffy side, but hey. Sometimes the outcome can surprise you.

Prometheus doesn't exactly deliver as well as the film that started it all thirty-three years ago, though it does show that Scott still knows what he's doing after all this time. After all, most sci-fi titles recently only focus on sexy alien chicks and gratuitous violence (and the occasional sex scene). Not in Scott's universe.

One thing the old school sci-fi titles always tend to focus on was the meaning of life and existence. Prometheus does such a thing. It's not exactly the what Stanley Kubrick did with 2001: A Space Odyssey, but what Scott does isn't half bad.

The cast isn't bad either. Noomi Rapace isn't quite like Sigourney Weaver, but she makes the most of her screen time. Charlize Theron and Idris Elba do pretty much the same thing, Guy Pearce just a slight level above them. The MVP of Prometheus has to be Michael Fassbender, who has definitely made a name for himself in a short amount of time.

All in all, Prometheus is quite good but nowhere near the greatness of Alien. The plot holes are slightly bothersome though the actors make up for them more or less. Still, do yourself a favor and wait until it's on DVD to watch it.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


The opening moments of Lars von Trier's Melancholia contain a number of surreal images set against an orchestral score. It looks odd to an outsider of von Trier's work, but not so much to those who have seen at least one of his films.

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) in the first half of Melancholia displays an uncertainty towards her new life as a married woman. It's likely she has a fear of commitment, but it's hard to say. Some view her behavior as erratic, but they don't know what goes on in her mind.

Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is different from her sister Justine. She's much more reserved however she can be uneasy at times as shown in various moments throughout the film. It's during her brief bouts of hysteria that it's Claire who's the more erratic of the two sisters, not Justine.

There's a slightly unsettling aspect of Melancholia in the knowledge that von Trier thought of the premise after a therapy session. (Those Danish directors sure are quirky.) Still, it shows his frame of mind on this sort of subject.

I really liked Melancholia, though I didn't love it as much as Dogville. Maybe because Melancholia got really depressing really fast and Dogville didn't. That said, it's worth a look.

My Rating: ****1/2

Monday, July 2, 2012

13 Going on 30

Hey, every now and again I need to watch something light after seeing an assortment of critically acclaimed dramas. A good balance to be honest.

I saw Gary Winick's 13 Going on 30, which some apparently call the female version of Big. Sure, some scenes could be compared to Penny Marshall's movie, but this is a different movie in actuality. A lot cuter too.

I really liked how Jennifer Garner plays her role. It's the way she plays her character of Jenna as a confused teenager in a woman's body. It's a really cute performance from her which, to be honest, is also a rare one nowadays.

Mark Ruffalo is someone I've always liked, especially after his great work in You Can Count on Me. Here in 13 Going on 30, he's the romantic leading man sort of in a similar vein to Jimmy Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner. And honestly, who doesn't like him? He's just one of those actors who's really likable.

I just really, really liked 13 Going on 30. Like I said, getting a light romantic comedy within your viewing schedule of critically acclaimed films is a good thing. This movie provides such a relief from such films. I should do this more often.

My Rating: ****

Sunday, July 1, 2012

BOOK VS MOVIE: Bridget Jones's Diary

There's always that slightly awkward moment when you can relate with a fictional character. It's not really a bad thing. It's just unusual.

For me recently, it's the title character of Helen Fielding's novel Bridget Jones's Diary. Like Bridget, I too am plagued by a bad single life and people who constantly pester me on one and only one subject. But I don't lead as bad a life as her.

What I like about Fielding's novel is how it's written. Many of Bridget's diary entries are similar to the way I write and think. Finally, a novel that accurately captures the female mind.

Sharon Maguire's movie also captures what Fielding's novel captures with the addition of rightly chosen actors. Renee Zellweger perfectly channels the many frustrations Bridget faces. Hugh Grant plays the ideal sleazy bastard. And, let's be honest. Colin Firth is pretty much the most perfect man alive. (Not much competition since Paul Newman passed away.)

Of course, there are difference between the novel and the movie. The novel is darker compared to the movie's light attitude. The presentation of the characters is very much the same in both. A few scenes in the novel were either altered or omitted in the movie. Still, I liked both of them very much.

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