Friday, October 30, 2009

Movie Capsule Reviews: Cinemanila 2009 Part 3

*KARAOKE (Chris Chong), Malaysia, 2008
stars: Zahiril Adzim, Nadiya Nissa
Boring has a new name. And it's "Karaoke". Watching this piece of Cannes trash is like driving rusty needles into your eyes. What a dull, indulgent crapper! The plot, if you could call it that, revolves around Betik, a young man who comes home to help in his family's karaoke business. When not busy staring at nothing, Betik indulges in the most boring of movie courtships with a woman called Anisah. The rest of it was all hazy as I was too busy snoring my ass off. There's nothing to be missed though. I woke up as the film shifts to an excruciating ten-minute scene showing how a factory processes palm oil. I kid you not. Only the most indulgent artsy-fartsies would find meaning in this pointless exercise. Good torture material.
Verdict: BOMB! Avoid!

*HUNGER (Steve McQueen), UK/Ireland, 2008
stars: Michael Fassbender, Liam Cunningham
Like a centerpiece in a sparse living room, there is a radiant 16- minute scene in the middle of “Hunger” that features a conversation between Irish Republican martyr Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) and a prison chaplain (Liam Cunningham) about the rationale and ethics of a hunger strike. This single-take scene officially puts the “serious actor” stamp on Fassbender’s resume and “OMG-what-is-he-going-to-do-next?!” on Steve Mc Queen’s.
Alternately disturbing and mesmerizing, “Hunger” recreates the last six weeks of the life of hunger striker Sands and the brutality administered to him and several IRA inmates in the infamous Maze prison. By the film’s final third, Michael Fassbender joins Emile Hirsch, Tom Hanks and Christian Bale in the multiple choice question: “Who lost the most weight for a movie role?”

Verdict: 3 stars

*LITTLE ZIZOU (Sooni Taraporevala), India, 2008
stars: Sohrab Ardeshir,Boman Irani
What happens when you put India’s Parsi superstars in one movie? You’ve got a charmless family comedy that will make you want to curse your misfortune for even giving it the time. “Little Zizou” follows a little boy caught in the middle of a cartoonish family feud in the Parsi community. This uber-Parsi movie should appeal to Indian audiences, but for non- Indians like me and my uber-bored friend, you’ll find yourself checking your watch more than usual. We just failed to connect with it. Not even the presence of superstar John Abraham can lend energy to this travesty. And what’s the deal with the mambo dancing and Besame Mucho group singing?
Verdict: 1 star

*SAMSON AND DELILAH (Warwick Thornton), Australia, 2009
stars: Rowan McNamara, Marissa Gibson
It’s a good thing that this is the last film I saw at Cinemanila. Somehow, it breaks the chain of crap-ola movies I saw the past few days and leaves the whole festival on a good note. Warwick Thornton’s piercing cinema is a quiet exploration of adolescent love between two aboriginal fringe-dwellers set in the barren Central Australian desert. Samson is a petrol-sniffer lost in music while Delilah is a traditional dot-painter forced to take care of her ailing grandmother. Thornton’s almost wordless film expands as the lovers confront substance abuse, poverty and racism. Slow in certain parts but don’t zone out, there is so much beauty in this picture to be ignored. The performances are heart-wrenching and the scenery will leave you breathless. A convincing snapshot of the destitute lives of Australian aborigines.
Verdict: 3.5 stars

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Scoop: "500 Days" Cutie Chloe Moretz To Star in "Let The Right One In" Remake!

If you've seen "500 Days of Summer" (and if you haven't already, I hope you will), you surely would have noticed that scene-stealer who played Joseph Gordon Levitt's "insightful" younger sister. Precociousness! That superstar-to be is Chloe Moretz and she's slated to appear as the lead in the remake of Swedish vampire masterpiece, "Let the Right One In".

The dumbed-down Hollywood remake will be called "Let Me In" and will be directed by Matt Reeves, he of Cloverfield fame.

The film follows a young bullied boy who befriends a young female vampire living in secrecy with her guardian. You can read my capsule review of the original Swedish film here. Rounding up the cast are Richard Jenkins and Jimmy Pinchak.

Will this give "Twilight" a run for its money? Ahh, ewan.

Reviews: 500 Days of Summer

Just when I’ve lost my faith in romantic comedies, Marc Webb’s “500 Days of Summer” comes along and singularly redeems the genre. What’s not to love about this film? IT IIIIIS lovable. You got that big scoop of wonderful named Zooey Deschannel in her Golden Age of Hotness. Then there's Joseph Gordon- Levitt (who was smashing in "Brick", by the way) looking like the cooler younger brother of Heath Ledger.

It has a delightfully poignant story that charms you and leaves you hugging yourself. Plot is simple enough: Boy and Girl hooks up then breaks up. Boy reflects back on their brief relationship and hops around between the good and bad times.

And then there’s THE music. Yes, the caps-lock is intentional. People who read me well know that I’m a sucker for pop films – those rare pieces of modern cinema that features an atmospheric use of pop songs. “Almost Famous” is one. “Garden State” is another. “500 Days..” completes the trio.

You can probably tell by now that I'll be singing hossanas to this movie but you should've seen me inside the theatre. I was frothing in the mouth.

The film opens with a funny disclaimer (the one that ends with “Bitch") and sets its achronological narrative with Regina Spektor’s “Us”. We are then introduced to Tom Hansen (Gordon-Levitt), a hopeless romantic convinced that he’s found the girl of his dreams in Summer Finn (Deschanel) the first time he sees her at his workplace. Problem is, Summer is a pragmatic tease and a commitment-phobe. And she's not the type to subscribe in the idea of "love", no sir, she likes Tom but she wants them to be friends. But anyway, somewhere between Day 1 and Day 500, he still gets to win her. And bed her.

The film then inventively charts the couple's descent to heartbreak with lots of witty dialogue and slick visual gags (the splitscreen! the splitscreen!). All the while, we are treated to a string of pop songs that are just pure gold: "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" by The Smiths, "Bookends" by Art and Garfunkel, and "Veni Vidi Vici" by The Black Lips. When I heard the strings of Carla Bruni's "Quelqu'un ma dit", I exploded in spasms of joy.

The love affair with pop culture doesn't stop there: there's a nod to Mike Nichols' "The Graduate", a reference to Rene Magritte's works and a wink at JD Salinger (Bananafish!). In one of the film's brightest moments, Gordon-Levitt does a funky Astaire to a Hall & Oates number. With all its showiness, Gordon-Levitt and Deschannel still both manage to stay afloat and deliver realistic and sensitive performances.

By the film's end, I have already edified it in my heart. Let me have my pa-feeling authority declaration: this generation just got their "An Affair To Remember". Their "Annie Hall". Their "Love Story". A movie that so exactingly captures a whole era's romantic sensibility and its quirks. My God, in one scene, Tom and Rachel discusses love while playing Wii! This is just too much goodness in one movie.

Rating: 5 big fat stars (as fat as Kirstie Alley in Fat Actress)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cinemanila 2009 Winners

Caught 5 more films before Cinemanila 2009 officially ended last Sunday, October 25. I’ll post my thoughts on each movie momentarily.
In the meantime, here are the winners of this year’s festival:
(You can click on the films with links to read my review:)


Main Competition (International Films)
Best Actor: Alfredo Castro, Tony Manero - Brazil
Best Actress: Tsilla Chelton, Pandora's Box - Turkey/France/Germany
Grand Jury Prize: Tulpan - Germany/ Kazakhstan/ Poland/ Russia/ Switzerland
Grand Prize Lino Brocka Award: Hunger - UK

SEA Competition
Best SEA Short Film: Focal Point - Malaysia
Best SEA Film: Talentime - Malaysia
Special Mention SEA Film: Woman on Fire - Malaysia

Young Cinema in Competition
Best Short Film: To Siomai Love (Remton Siega Zuasola) - Philippines
Ishmael Bernal Most Outstanding Young Filipino Filmmaker: Remton Siega Zuasola

Digital Lokal
Lino Brocka Grand Jury Prize: Biyaheng Lupa
Lino Brocka Grand Prize: Anacbanua

Lifetime Achievement Award: Paul Schrader

Indie Spirit Award: Lav Diaz

Awards ceremony was held last Sunday, October 23, 2009 at the NBC Tent in Bonifacio Global City.

One observation, though: where’s the audience!?! I watched more than ten films and except for the buzzed-about “Kinatay” and the premieres (“Inglorious Basterds, Coco Avant Chanel”), I noticed the alarming lack of audience at the regular screenings. At the screening of Australia’s “Samson and Delilah”, there were just three of us inside the theatre. This is sad considering that the intention of the festival is for good, quality films to reach a wider audience.

IMO, the P122 ticket price is too off-putting for some. Especially if you would compare it with similar festivals: the highly successful Spanish filmfest at Greenbelt pegs their tickets at P100 while Cine Europa shows their films for free at the Shang Cineplex!

The lack of buzz about the festival was also a bit of a downer. Nobody seemed to care when Paul Schrader had a talk and when Diego Luna didn’t make it to the event. And the pedigree of the this year’s lineup seemed...ho-hum.

Cinemanila needs a booster shot.

P10 Film Fiesta at SM Cinemas!

Selected SM cinemas will be showing re-runs of family movies for just P10 (plus P5 amusement tax) with the P10 Film Fiesta running from September 4 until December 3, 2009. The festival will screen box office debacles movies like Streetfighter, Inkheart, The Golden Compass, P.S. I Love You, My Sassy Girl among others. Not a thrilling lineup there, but anyway who’s complaining when you get to watch them on the big screen for just ten bucks?

For complete screening schedules, visit the sm cinema website.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Scoop: 'Precious' Director Lee Daniels Eyeing 'Miss Saigon' Movie

Iron-hot director Lee Daniels is setting his eyes on the adaptation of the hit stage musical "Miss Saigon" for the big screen. As most of you know already, the musical is a retelling of Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” about an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl falling in love in the midst of the Vietnam War. Former United Artists CEO Paula Wagner is set to produce the adaptation.

This piece of news will surely get bigger come Oscar 2010 when Daniels’ career hit supernova status on the strength of his latest film, the awards-bait “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire”.

Now, since this is not a Viva Films production with Joel Lamangan at the helm I’m dashing all hopes of Lea Salonga starring in it. Here’s an unsolicited casting advice though (Paula Wagner, I hope you’re reading this): For the role of Vietnamese bar girl Kim, I’m putting my money on: Vanessa Ann Hudgens!

Think about this: Vanessa’s a hot teen star with the pipes to sing “Sun and Moon” and has box office potential.  Plus, she’s a half-breed and is kind of whorish. For the GI role, let it be…Zac Efron! Now, they got themselves a hit! Take that, Disney!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Movie Capsule Reviews: Cinemanila 2009 Part 2

Capsule reviews of Cinemanila 2009 films Part 2.

stars: Ondas Besikbasov, Samal Esljamova, Askhat Kuchencherekov
“Tulpan” is the first narrative feature from director Sergey Dvortsevoy and chronicles a young shepherd’s quest to marry the only available woman on a deserted steppe of southern Kazakhstan. The film astonishes as it captures a realistic picture of Kazakh life – the barren landscape, its nomadic inhabitants and the interdependence of humans and animals. Its simplicity will leave you astonished. At the heart of the movie lies a truly resonant message about following your dreams. However be forewarned: there is a very graphic scene of the birthing of a lamb that you will find both hypnotic and appalling.

Verdict: 3 stars

stars: Francis Bosco, Jathisweran

After sitting through this tired father-son drama, I have an urge to go to the cinema counter and demand that they give me the last two hours of my life back. Excrucicating. The movie drips with melodramatic clichés that would make a “Maalaala Mo Kaya” episode look subdued. The paper-thin story follows a single father taking solace in the bottle as he makes a comeback as a magician. Nothing that we haven’t seen before in “The Wrestler” and without the care and depth. I’ll give this crapper 20 yawns.

Verdict: 1 star

Thursday, October 22, 2009

John Hughes Film Festival at Shang!

There must’ve been something really terrifying about the 80s for us to forget about it after 20 years. There was Michael Jackson looking like a normal human being, Madonna singing about virginity and Cher winning the Oscar (hu-waaat??).

I suppose it must be because of how people looked back then: those bangles, oversized shirts and teased hairdos. Ugh. I sometimes see my Mom’s 80s pictures and I tremble. God, the shoulder pads!

Well, thank God, I was too young to experience it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get a kick for 80’s pop cultural shit. Now, we all have a chance to relive it at the John Hughes Film Festival happening at the Shang Cineplex, Cinema 3 on October 23 to 25.

There's "Some Kind of Wonderful", "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", "Breakfast Club" and the Molly Ringwald rah-rah prom flick "Pretty in Pink". Ticket price is P150.00. C'mon, c'mon!

John Hughes Film Festival
October 23 - 25, 2009

Cinema #3

Screening Schedule:

October 23 (Friday)
2:00 PM-Pretty in pink
4:30 PM-Some kind of wonderful
7:00 PM-Ferris Bueller's day off
9:30 PM-Breakfast club

October 24 (Saturday)
2:00 PM-Breakfast club
4:30 PM-Ferris Bueller's day off
7:00 PM-Some kind of wonderful
9:30 PM-Pretty in pink

October 25 (Sunday)
2:00 PM-Ferris Bueller's day off
4:30 PM-Pretty in Pink
7:00 PM-Breakfast club
9:30 PM-Some kind of Wonderful

Ticket Price : P150.00

Movie Capsule Reviews: Cinemanila 2009

It's movie heaven again at Cinemanila. The international film festival runs from October 15 to 25, 2009 at Market! Market! cinemas and Fully Booked High Street. I have a resolve to watch more good Filipino movies this time and it seems like Cinemanila is the perfect venue for it. Here are some capsule reviews of movies that I recently saw at the festival:

*69 1/2 (Ted Manotoc)
stars: Nico Manalo, Bituin Escalante

An aspiring filmmaker and his best friend accept the offer of a green-minded businessman to make a pornographic film to disastrous results. The film itself is an absolute disaster -- it's pretentious, unfunny and filled with "Long live Philippine cinema!" chest-beating. This is the stuff that makes you feel sorry about the freedom that independent cinema affords. When some un-talented hack makes a pathetic film that does not deserve an audience. I almost feel sorry for the miscast Nico Manalo who was sensational in "Spring Awakening".
Verdict: BOMB! Avoid!

*WHEN TIMAWA MEETS DELGADO (Ray Gibraltar), 2007
stars: Kristoffer Grabato, Rhenomar Soqueño
An Ilonggo film that revolves around the unconventional lives of Jun and Ruben and their American dream. The transfer of the version I saw was a bit pixelated and I really have something against hand-held indie crapola. But then again, it invested in a wonderful story about Filipinos taking up Nursing and migration. I take it's a very personal film and it's not hard to be drawn in. Stylistically, the film is a winner. The use of Ilonggo music also creates mood.
Verdict: Four stars! Watch it!

*LAKE TAHOE (Fernando Eimbcke), Mexico, 2008
stars: Diego Cataño, Hector Herrera
One of the joys of going to film festivals is when you walk inside a theatre not having an idea about what you would see and leaving it enthralled. "Lake Tahoe" is a simple picture with a very simple story and I just....fell in love with it. A young man crashes into a pole and gets introduced to different people while finding someone to fix his car. There's no music, no attention- calling camerawork, no kilometric dialogues-- just a straightforward story with a tight script. Lovely.
Verdict: Four stars!

*LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (Tomas Alfredson), Sweden, 2009
stars: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
A friend whose film instincts I trust has already enshrined this film in his "best of the year" list before I had the chance to see it. When I finally had my turn, I was blown out of the water. Twilight what?! "Let the Right One In" is the shit! It follows Oscar, a 12-year old bullied boy who befriended a beautiful vampire-girl. Vampire-girl has a peculiar relationship with an old man willing to kill people to protect her. The screenplay is hefty and the performances stupendous. There's also a most poignant ending that will turn your heart into jelly.
Verdict: 5 stars!

*KINATAY (Brillante Mendoza), 2009
stars: Coco Martin, Maria Isabel Lopez
Finally had the chance to see the much talked-about film by the 2009 Cannes Best Director winner. I didn't hate it. I didn't like it either. Let's just say, it has it's moments-- mostly gross. It follows a newly- married policeman who accepts a job involving killing (and hacking to pieces) a prostitute. The film's biggest argument: Coco Martin is the sharpest actor of today. I'd go as far as saying that we now have a male Nora Aunor incarnate. Here, his eyes do all the acting. Otherwise, the film is a dark, violent headtrip to Pinoy police crime.
Verdict: 3 stars
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