Thursday, October 24, 2013

Don Jon: Not all about sex, porn and comedy

Don Jon

Director: Joseph Gordon-Levitt
With: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore

It makes me wonder why Joseph Gordon-Levitt would direct, write and star in a film like Don Jon aside from the fact that it's about porn and his leading lady is Scarlett Johansson, which is pretty self-explanatory. I am not sure about the message he wants to address though. Is it about the bad sides of being addicted to porn? Is it about love, life and the internet? Is he trying to create the funny and light version of Steve McQueen's Shame? or he just wants to create a film with a subject that he knows people will enjoy? Why choose New Jersey as the setting? I should probably do my research on that. But I just find it odd that he chooses to direct something like this.

'Don Jon' is about an old-fashioned, disciplined, vain, Jersey guy, Jon Martello, who cares only for a few things: his pad, his car, his family, his church, his boys, his chicks and most importantly, his porn. He finds watching porn better than doing the actual 'deed' with, as he refers to, "the real pussies". When Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) came to his life, he struggles between his true love and new love - porn and Barbara.

This is Gordon-Levitt's writing-directing full feature film debut and while it's far from being perfect, he showed his distinctive and playful style in his screenplay and direction which is pretty admirable. The film showed repetitive sitcom styled plots with hints of mystery c/o Julianne Moore's character, Esther, wherein at first, one would think that the course of the film is going nowhere. But Gordon-Levitt surely knows where the film is heading and he succeeds in putting a closure, or should we say, a 'development', to Jon's porn addiction.

Gordon-Levitt created a variety of characters in this film which is easily my favorite aspect of the film. Each character is unique and they all bring something to the table -- from Don Jon's friends who always look for women in bars and grade them from zero to dime, to Don Jon's family consisting of a tough father who mirrors his love for chicks, a gentle loving mother and a quiet sister who always checks her smart phone like the usual teenagers in this generation. But the real gems are Don Jon, Barbara and Esther to which Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore humorously characterized in this film. Gordon-Levitt displayed his never failing charisma. This time, as a porn addict, chick magnet that's very reminiscent of Neil Patrick Harris' Barney Stinson in How I Met Your Mother. It also helps that NPH and JGL have the same overconfident and naughty expressions on their faces whenever they turn on their manly buttons. While I saw nothing new in Julianne Moore's performance in this, she's proven in so many films already, that whenever a casting director needs a middle aged woman willing to be fucked by a woman, a man or whoever and whatever his/her age is, she's always open ;) to portray that role with no shame, and her character in Don Jon is not an exception. Scarlett Johansson is my favorite though. Whatever she's doing with her accent, which the film has implied that it is a heavy Jersey accent, she played it pleasantly entertaining. She is almost effortless with this flirtatious and sexy yet kind of obnoxious JAP from hell character, but managed to make it fun and lovable. She's 75% why this film is entertaining. And her hotness still leaves everyone breathless, especially in one of her scenes with JGL in the hallway. Oh my! It is apparent that they all enjoyed their characters.

My friend said that this is a guy-flick but thinking about it, it's actually no different to other chick flicks. While the first half reeks of machismo, sex and grown men stuff, the second half kind of negates all of those things by including sappy and serious materials in the film. It would have been better if Gordon-Levitt maintained the level of virility throughout the movie. He obviously tried to stay that way but he focused more on the turnaround of Jon-Barbara-Esther's relationships and Don Jon's overall growth. We should have been warned before watching the film that this is not all about sex and comedy.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tom Hanks, the 'Hero' in Captain Phillips

Captain Phillips

Director: Paul Greengrass
With: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi

Survival has been the theme of my week in movies lately. After watching Sandra Bullock struggle in space, here comes Tom Hanks as sea Captain Phillips getting through the hands of Somali pirates.

Captain Phillips captured my attention ever since its trailer came out. It got me curious because it features REAL life survival and modern piracy drama. I had a few knowledge about pirates, the rest I knew from fantasy films like Pirates of the Caribbean and Peter Pan wherein we have the good pirate in Jack Sparrow and the bad pirate in Captain Hook. In this film,  pirates are no fantasy and they're scarier than ever. They are extremely thin, have yellow eyes, and rotten teeth, wearing ragged clothes, yet all of them exist to terrorize and never once play for pity. Tom Hanks leads the film as the captain of U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama which was hijacked by Somali pirates last 2009. I knew by then that Captain Phillips is a must watch.

It certainly did not disappoint. With its more than 2 hours running time, director Paul Greengrass filled his viewers with pulse-pounding scenes, humanizing & charismatic characters and stupendous acting performances. I didn't even notice the time as I was watching it. Greengrass took us back and forth to the small speedboats of the Somali pirates to the cargo ship Maersk Alabama. Add to that the beautiful bird's eye view shots of the ship. And then as Phillips saw the impending approach of the pirates toward them, we were absorbed into a relentless suspense from that scene to the end. There are so many shots in each of the scenes, I can't think of a single shot that lasted 10 seconds. Seems like a hard work well done by the editor!

The characters were introduced sufficiently to the viewers, thanks to Billy Ray's compelling screenplay. The beginning of the film showed Phillips' relationship with his family and the chaos brewing in the Somali shore because of the failed piracy attempts by the other Somali pirates. These stories provided the reasoning behind the actions of these contrasting characters throughout the film. Captain Phillips was shown as a firm, courageous and protective captain focused in his work. And as what real Captains do, he held responsible for the safety of his crew. The Somali pirates, particularly their leader, Muse, turned out to be a vulnerable human with ambitions despite his motives of hijacking the ship for money. The moment these two met by seeing each otheir through their own binoculars is one of the strongest scenes in the film. These characters also delivered numerous quotable quotes that just adds up to how impressive the screenplay is.

The film has numerous strong points, but Tom Hanks performance is the highlight of the film. I felt like I haven't seen Tom Hanks in a decent movie in forever. But the classic Tom Hanks, who we idolize, love, who is expert in capturing raw emotions and can effectively make his characters iconic, is back in this film. Almost throughout the film, Tom Hanks played Captain Phillips with a great amount of subtlety. But in the final act of the film, that's when he brought out the emotions in everyone with his out of this world intensity. He's simply amazing! Barkhad Abdi, the pirate leader, wasn't bad either. He's a very charismatic villain and he delivers his lines perfectly with humor and passion. They make for a great duo of protagonist and antagonist, despite having extremely different characters. I'm rooting for them to win lots of awards for their work in this film.

It's such a shame that some of the real life crew of Maersk Alabama were actually claiming that the real Captain Phillips is not the hero the film had depicted. But ignoring this controversy, Captain Phillips remains to be terrific that will surely make it as one of many people's favorite films this year.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

SEPTEMBER 2013: Blackfish, Prisoners, Sana Dati, Supe Size Me and An Inconvenient Truth


Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

In film, orcas, popularly known as killer whales, are either our friends or monsters, or animals who can basically live up to their names. In the movie Free Willy, Willy the killer whale was depicted as a friendly animal. Just last year, Rust and Bone, starring Marion Cotillard, showed the danger of being a whale trainer. As Cotillard's character's legs were amputated because she was attacked by a killer whale during a show. There's also a 1977 horror film, Orca, which is like a version of Jaws, except killer whales serve as the deadly sharks. To a degree, these films gave us an impression of killer whales, but these are work of fiction. This year, Blackfish, a documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, proved that all of this could be true, but not quite, as this film showed more light in the behavior of these black and white creatures. One would realize how ignorant he/she was about these mammals after watching this.

Blackfish focuses on the death of Dawn Brancheau, a 40-year old whale trainer of SeaWorld in Florida who was killed by Tilikum, the largest orca in captivity. The documentary further explained the dangers of keeping these species away from their natural habitat. Cowperthwaite also covered the case filed againt SeaWorld Florida and their claims that Dawn was killed because of her own malpractice, and not the aggression of Tilikum.

Cowperthwaite presented great arguments about the risk of keeping killer whales in captivity. Several former SeaWorld trainers were interviewed and revealed the wrongdoings of the said institution like claiming that whales in captivity live longer, for one. She also emphasized the difference of behaviors of killer whiles in the wild and in captivity. It was mentioned by a neuroscientist in the film that killer whales have emotions stronger than any other mammals, they can be friendly to humans, and they naturally stand for each other. Being in a pool away from their natural habitat, can lead to psychosis, stress, frustration and their death which can also be fatal to the trainers who work with them for shows. These effects were further proven with footage of distressed behavior of killer whales whose babies were transferred away from them. Basically, the documentary showed sharply the repercussions of the confinement of killer whales and why they are not safe for human beings.

What a powerful feature, as strong as these creatures are! As I've tweeted after watching this documentary, my outlook on ocean parks and zoos will never be the same again. They're forever tainted. That just goes to show how strong Blackfish moved me. Any institution that holds responsible for capturing wild animals for their own revenue, even if it means the lives of their employees and even if it means that the animals in captivity would suffer, is just plain disgusting. See, prior to watching this film, I never even thought of this. I was ignorant. I was too focused on the false entertainment that they bring. Even the whale trainers were blinded by these institutions, that if not for the death of one of them, they wouldn't realize how huge of a threat these killer whales in captivity possess. But this documentary explained well that most of us are naive of this fact because our knowledge of these institutions are too positive. I don't want to generalize all ocean parks and zoos, but upon rethinking, the primary reason of these parks is not to entertain tourists or people in general, it's money. Greed fuels them to do this. It's depressing.

While Blackfish offers something past documentaries like Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man and Louie Psihoyos' The Cove have accomplished already, it's powerful message is extremely important to ignore. I really hope many people see it, as it can really change one's view completely, like what it did to me. It's for the good.


Director: Denis Villeneuve
With: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, Melissa Leo

Every viewer would find themselves hypothesizing the conclusion of Prisoners throughout its two and a half hours running time. And even after the end credits, Prisoners would make its audience pick up the pieces of this mind-boggling crime-thriller-mystery-suspense-psychological-drama, about a religious man in search for his missing daughter who struggled with his own demons during the process.

A compelling story, bleak cinematography and superb performances by its cast, along with Denis Villeneuve's sharp direction and some elements of Silence of the Lambs, Prisoners made for an exciting film that surely put its viewers' eyes glued to the screen. It's engaging from start to finish. More thanks to the well thought screenplay of Aaron Guzikowski, which presented story lines that made each character of this film seem like the suspect to a mystery that will end up blindsiding its viewers. I'm pretty sure, most of us in the theater, if not all, did not see the twist coming. It builds up by showing answers and clues while ironically putting more questions to the mystery of the story. It's like playing Clue without the mansion, instead, the playing field is a gloomy suburb where the game seems impossible to win.

Not gonna lie, I was never a fan of Hugh Jackman's performance in Les Miserables, or him as an actor in general. I acknowledge his acting chops yet I never find him that good. But he's proven me wrong and probably anyone who doubted him, as his performance in Prisoners is thrilling and moving. It's over the top but it suits the situation well. He captured the emotions of a father desperate to find his daughter and appease his longing wife. It's unfortunate because he's really good in this, but he might fall a little short in snagging major award nods. Kind of ironic because he was acknowledged easily last year. I'm not surprised though as Jean Valjean is too baity of a character to be ignored. If he would fail, I hope Jake Gyllenhaal doesn't, because he has also proven in this film that he's really one of the underrated actors of his generation. He's the unsung hero of this film with his subtle yet dominant portrayal of a detective determined to help find the missing daughter. Paul Dano, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo also did a magnificent job with each of their unique and complex characters. Emphasis to the magnificent because they truly were magnificent. It's a joy seeing these actors in one film especially here where their acting prowess are well-utilized.

I think this movie is going to be one of the overlooked gems of the year. If only it had a better, non-generic title, lol. But I'm hoping for more success for this film as everything about it deserves to be acknowledged. It may have holes and questionable logic, I still believe its strengths are worthy enough to see.

Sana Dati

Director: Jerrold Tarog
With: Lovi Poe, Paulo Avelino, TJ Trinidad

I was not able to see this during the Cinemalaya week as it didn't interest me. I thought its trailer was just okay. But after numerous recommendations, hype and awards that it got, I grabbed the opportunity to finally watch it when it was released nationwide. Sadly to say, I probably expected too much from it. While I don't think it's bad, I thought it's just okay. I'm the Sana Dati black sheep.

It's not until the second half of the story that I've come to appreciate it. One of the strengths of this Cinemalaya Best Film is Tarog's way of storytelling. Each character's mystery is fascinating and they're presented not in the typical way. I commend how this film tackles a subject that we rarely see in Filipino films. Add to that is the fact that it has some of the best shots I've ever seen in a film. Although I wish those shots were consistent, but they made the most out of the setting of the film.

Sana Dati also works because of Lovi Poe's brave portrayal of a lost woman trying to cope up with her past, and Paulo Avelino's subtle and mysterious representation of a wedding videographer, with deeper motives with the bride. Both performances were appropriate with their roles. I admire Lovi Poe's flirtatious ways in the film as they're very effective and natural. She matches them with vulnerability as needed. She outshines everyone in the film but Avelino is not far behind. His committed portrayal of a quiet and obscure character is effective. The rest of the cast is actually good. Some of them brought the laffos! But perhaps, what's really keeping me from fully loving the film is that I didn't like Lovi Poe's character. I understand that her character is going through a big dilemma, but I find her character too immoral. I don't want to be a prude but that's just how I feel about her character. I like that her character is brave but her weakness exudes with her decisions. And that's probably the beauty of Sana Dati, it's not something that you expect.

Sana Dati almost has no catharsis to its main issue. But in a way, it makes the film more realistic. It ended in a mature manner, instead of ending it by pleasing its viewers.

Super Size Me

Director: Morgan Spurlock
With: Morgan Spurlock, Alexandra Jamieson

I've known this documentary for a long time before I've seen it. I've been informed by a classmate way back in high school. It was a casual conversation. I wasn't a huge fan of films and documentaries back then. But the premise had me interested instantly, as I'm a food lover, or should I say a fast food lover. Plus, who wouldn't get stirred with the idea of eating fast food only for 30 days?

I also just found out that Super Size Me is an Oscar nominated documentary. And Morgan Spurlock, the director, writer, producer and the star of this film directed and co-produced One Direction: This Is Us! He's gone a long way since Super Size Me. In fact, I also learned that he and his wife Alexandra who was featured prominently in this film have divorced already. Too bad because their relationship was featured in Super Size Me and they seemed like a nice couple.

But anyway, there's nothing much to say about Super Size Me. I expected to like it a lot more than I do after watching it. But I probably know much about how bad fast food are today that's why it's not that enlightening anymore. I would probably like this more if I watched it years ago. Still, it's a good documentary. It's fun, and I still learned some facts from it. Spurlock sure knows the audience's interest judging his other documentaries after Super Size Me. Oh, it also kind of influenced my diet. I'll try to lessen my softdrink intake now, for sure. D:

An Inconvenient Truth

Director: Davis Guggenheim
With: Al Gore

Al Gore presented a serious matter in a light way. In this documentary, as we know, it's about Global Warming. I didn't know that Gore is this charismatic.

I've known this documentary for a long time now but I was never able to see it. As a self proclaimed nature lover :3, I should have seen this a long time ago. I thought Al Gore presented great arguments about Global Warming. And he added ways to prevent it. It's very alarming and I'm pretty sure that this documentary opened the eyes of its viewers about the bad things we do to Mother Nature and how worse Mother Nature can retaliate.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

SEPTEMBER 2013: Lovelace, Stories We Tell, Insidious Chapter 2, Taxi to the Dark Side and Capturing the Friedmans


Director: Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
With: Amanda Seyfried, Peter Saarsgard, Sharon Stone, Adam Brody, Juno Temple

Amanda Seyfried has gone a long way from being the dumb blonde in Mean Girls. She has always been a good actress, in my opinion. It takes such a high level of self awareness to act a role of the hilarious Karen in Mean Girls. In Lovelace, not only self awareness is required, but boldness and maturity as well, to effectively portray an infamous porn star, in which she acted beautifully.

Seyfried portrays Linda Boreman, the star of Deep Throat who's better known as Linda Lovelace. The film depicts Lovelace's beginnings, rise and fall in the porn industry in the hands of Chuck Traynor.

Peter Saarsgard as Chuck Traynor was also good. It seems like he's slowly becoming the resident asshole in films. It's also good to see Sharon Stone in this as Lovelace's strict mother. She really CAN act and I wish that we'll see more of her in the future with better projects. Juno Temple also showed her range as an actress in this film as Lovelace's best friend. I believe that this girl has a future.

It's always fascinating to learn about a true story and watch it in a film, especially Linda Lovelace's very interesting life where directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman integrated more color and humor to it. But I felt like the second half of the film didn't live up to the engaging scenes of the first. The second half was kind of a drag and wasn't effective in making Linda Lovelace's journey become victorious rather than sour. After all, they're trying to prevent modern hopefuls / women from being abused especially in the film industry. Still, it's really not that bad. I love its score! It has retro vibe and it's also dramatic that adds up to the mood and emotion of the film. I think the first half was amusing and it makes me want to watch the real Deep Throat. :)) Or am I the only one who hasn't seen  it? :3

Stories We Tell

Director: Sarah Polley
With: Sarah Polley, Rebecca Jenkins, Peter Evans, Michael Polley, Harry Gulkin, Susy Buchan, John Buchan, Mark Polley, Joanna Polley

Sarah Polley, director of Away From Her and Take This Waltz created this documentary simply to tell the story of her life and her family. Her father, Michael Polley, narrated the film. At first, you would probably think that the concept is kind of narcissistic. Even one of the storytellers told Powell, "who gives a fuck about this family?". I mean, who would create a documentary film about the story of her own clan? But as the film progressed, it is like a beautiful flower whose petals are blossoming for the world to see.

It's a story about love, family, life and infidelity. But this depends on who's telling the story. All of the storytellers were asked to recall stories of their family mainly about Diane, Powell's mother, who died of cancer when Powell was young. It is utterly captivating that some stories contradict each other, the reason why the subject varies depending on the storyteller.

The general consensus of the storytellers is that the family is far from being perfect. In fact, it is kind of dark. But despite that, the family and the people involved are very participative with Powell, they could make their own TV show for being likable and poetic, to an extent. It's very simple and pleasant at first, until twists kept on turning. Powell was revealed to be a product of infidelity. But with the different stories told in this documentary, it is hard to judge the status of her life and the state of their family. I'll go back to the fact, that it really depends on who's telling the story. Watch it and you decide. Or should I say, watch it and let them tell their story.

I was a fan of Powell prior to watching this film. I'm a huge fan of her work in Take This Waltz, which she wrote and directed. With this documentary, without giving a footnote to her past films, Powell made it clear that her films were inspired by her real life experiences. Take This Waltz and Away From Her made MORE sense because of this documentary. It's quite haunting, thinking about it. But what I love more about this documentary is that it doesn't only express what Powell wanted to reveal about herself, it's also part of a closure of a story she really wanted to tell and want to know about herself. And this is by letting the people revolving her, tell her story, their perspective. The reality is, the stories contravene and seems like they make no sense, but Powell let these stories be.

Insidious: Chapter 2

Director: James Wan
With: Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey

Insidious Chapter 2

I've been looking forward to seeing this film since they announced that they're going to make a sequel for 2011's Insidious. I've always been a fan and considered it as one of my favorite horror films ever. I have lower expectations though because of its critical response and add to that the fact that horror sequels rarely live up to the success of their predecessors. But after watching it, I must say that it's still the Insidious that I love - insanely scary and hilarious. Then again, I tend to be well attached to the film that I get scared easily, but screw it, it really provided the horror.

With this second chapter though, director James Wan included additional ingredients absent from its prequel. If the first one has demons, the second one has similarities with Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. There are also lots of scenes in the film where it resembled The Shining, one was when Patrick Wilson looked like Jack Nicholson in his famous "Here's Johnny!" scene, while Rose Byrne also effectively showed fear in her eyes ala Shelley Duvall. Wilson and Byrne may not be at par with those classic actors. Nevertheless, they, along with the rest of the cast, delivered solid performances. Lin Shaye here is still as fun and expressive as the first Insidious.

Horror films for me always work if it has the right mix of comedy and scares. Insidious Chapter 2 has plenty of those factors. Although like the first Insidious, I find the last quarter of the film to be ridiculous, but I embraced it and had a great time in the movie house with friends. I'm a believer that horror films should be enjoyed in a movie house, not at home, alone, with lights turned off. It's crazier when you get a kick out of it with several friends and a bunch of strangers despite their loud screams, gasps and laughters.

I'm happy for the box office success it's achieving right now and I hope that it will inspire more producers to create horror flicks that avid horror fans love and enjoy. Here's hoping that 2014 brings more terrifying movies for us!

Taxi To The Dark Side

Director: Alex Gibney

This documentary directed by Alex Gibney is about an Afghan Taxi Driver, Dilawar, who was beaten to death by American soldiers while being held in detention and was falsely accused of being part of the Afghan terrorists.

The film focuses on the contradiction of the Bush administration and their national laws particularly on torture and interrogation in general. It kind of reminds me of We Steal Secrets wherein there's a dilemma about freedom of speech. They alter laws in order to achieve something in their favor but that's when the moral implication enters the situation. I remember during the peak of Zero Dark Thirty, it had some issues about Kathryn Bigelow's inclusion of torture in her film. I wish I watched Taxi to the Dark Side way back, so that I wasn't ignorant during this height of ZDT's controversy.

Taxi to the Dark side somewhat opened my eyes in the process of American soldiers and interrogators in dealing with captured terrorists or criminals. It was terrifying to see how the interrogators can smile to the cameras while the people they tortured are thrown or displayed beside them. I also now have a better understanding of why there are many Americans against by how George Bush dealt with the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the Bush doctrine in general. The 9/11 attacks, seem like it made some Americans become close minded with their beliefs. As a country where racism is prevalent, some tend to generalize that all Afghans are bad people. It's really hard to tackle this issue without putting myself in their situation. It's hard to point fingers. There are many others involved in this issue before me, but as I watched this documentary, I got sympathetic towards the innocent people affected by these events, may it be Americans or Afghans. it could be anyone. It's saddening that even the Geneva Conventions, that authorize the code of international law for the humanitarian treatment of war, gets violated to strike against the so-called 'bad people'. It is unmistakably wrong how terrorists can look at life as if it's nothing, but acting upon it like how Nazis and other warlords did in our past is equally sinful. Our history exists to serve as our lesson. I feel so preachy now but that's just how I felt while I was watching this documentary.

But anyway, this film has a great message but I could compare its narration to Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. It has a very compelling story and paramount to the society, but I kind of find it boring. :/ It's so serious, which is appropriate because the issue should be taken seriously :3 but it didn't have the suspenseful storytelling technique, or at least entertaining despite its dark content, that other documentaries possess for their viewers to be engaged. It's information after information. But like I mentioned, the message of this documentary is worthy enough to see this. I'm glad I did.

Capturing The Friedmans

Director: Andrew Jarecki
With: Arnold Friedman, Elaine Friedman, Jesse Friedman, David Friedman, Seth Friedman

Directed by Andrew Jarecki, 'Capturing the Friedmans' is a documentary about the 1980's investigation of Arnold and Jesse Friedman for child molestation and sodomy and how this affected their household in Great Neck, New York. The Friedmans consist of Arnold and Elaine, with their children David, Seth and Jesse. Aside from interviews, the film contains a number of home videos of their family dinners, conversations, arguments, vacations and video diaries prior and during the Friedmans' trial. These footages were taken not for publishing purposes, but as a way to record the events in their lives.

The style of this documentary reminds me of two documentaries that I've also watched this year - The Imposter and Stories We Tell, in a sense that we weren't given one side of the story. Jarecki made its viewers decide who to believe as each side has strong convictions of what they know about their story. For me, it's not even about what the accused did with the victims. Wherein Arnold Friedman, the head of the family and father of three children, along with his youngest son, Jesse Friedman, allegedly sodomized and molested several children who attended Arnold's computer classes in their home. The case is bad, undoubtedly, which actually also kind of reminds me of the documentary, Deliver Us From Evil, but what's more provocative in this film is the effect of this hysteria (as how Elaine described it), to the lives of each members of the Friedmans. I've watched them fall apart in the midst of the trial and it's disheartening to witness it. But despite this turn of events, you can tell how each of the Friedmans love their family deeply. I'm trembling as I type this, just thinking about what they can do for their loved ones. I kind of feel guilty that I'm more focused on their family, than the supposed victims of the film, but I truly think that the main source of inspiration that I got from this film is the relationship of the Friedmans with each other.

This documentary is VERY depressing. There's nothing more saddening with a documentary that started with a complete and happy family only to be destroyed by an event that shook, not only them and their community, but its viewers as well. Especially that the accusations may not be entirely true as currently, this is still in the process of investigation. I don't know how anyone could finish this film without feeling a plethora of emotions, disgust turns into sympathy, affection to rage. It's an emotional roller coaster! But the feeling of sadness soars in the end. Kudos to Jarecki's way of stitching every interviews that he got for this film and providing the open-endedness of the documentary, leaving his viewers a vague scenario of what really happened to the Friedmans.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013



Director: Alfonso Cuarón
With: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Just earlier this year, I felt blessed to see one of the greatest cinematic splendor in Ang Lee's Life of Pi. I never thought it would be followed by another brilliant film experience in a short amount of time. But Gravity made me feel that again. Gravity is simply spectacular.

The film revolves around two astronauts -- Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), a NASA medical engineer, and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), a veteran astronaut and the space shuttle leader on his last mission, when an accident occurred in space leaving them stranded 370 miles above Earth.

From a technical stand point, Gravity, perhaps, is the best film I've seen this year. It made Pacific Rim's visual effects look like shit and take note, I was gushing the latter when I saw it. It just blew everything out of the water. Watching it in IMAX surely helped my viewing. For a time, it really felt like you're watching the Earth from the outer space.

All praises to Alfonso Cuarón! He managed to immerse his viewers to a thrilling ride that surely made everyone tremble at the edge of their seats. His choices of shots vary from establishing, to point-of-view, to close up and each shot was perfection. The long establishing shot of the Earth at the beginning of the film was just AMAZING. The inclusion of the sun and how it flickers each time the characters cover it is one of the littlest details I glorify in it. The auroras, the islands, the clouds, the eye of the storm, they're breathtaking. And then scene after scene, obstacles after obstacles, Cuarón keeps his camera moving and floating like we're being rewarded of a next level to a video game that we're playing, especially each time the characters survive the scene. One will find himself bending and/or moving on his chair hoping that the characters will be able to hold on to something away from the swallowing darkness of the universe. It's basically a combination of beautiful imagery, anxiety and terror. It's kind of anticlimatic to think that those were just CGIs, that these are just part of the studio and production design of the film. Because it's so realistic that it's unreal.

In space, there is no sound but the supposed noise of massive destruction of satellites in one orbit and the deadly bullet speed debris scattered in the outer space were altered by the heart racing score of Steven Price. I have never heard of him before but he will surely get recognized because of this film. His score is not only effective for the heart pounding scenes, but he also shines in the saddest and most intimate parts of the film. And at the end of the film, one would also feel overwhelmed and victorious. Price's score is a huge factor why that happens.

The script by Alfonso and his son, Jonas, also added to the effectiveness of Gravity. The right amount of drama and humor balances out the depressing state of being stucked in the outerspace. It may be lacking of depth in terms of story arcs, but it's definitely not lacking of philosophy and spirituality. Letting go and the willingness to live are some of the underlying themes of the film. Think of 127 Hours, except the setting is in an ocean of nothingness, the main character is not trapped in a canyon, rather, she's trapped in an infinite vastness of space, with a whole lot more of stressful problems and nerve racking action. But to be honest, it's really more about the plight of the character, instead of her history. There's no need for flashbacks and elaborated back stories. The humor also worked well because of Sandra Bullock's impeccable timing and George Clooney's arrogant yet charming way of delivering his lines. With great chemistry and charisma, Bullock and Clooney are two of the strongest aspects of the film. I'm elated by the fact that Sandra, who's almost 50, was given this kind of role. I never thought that she can pull this off. But she proved me wrong. She was able to develop a character that is cold in nature to become rootable and sympathetic. Her, imitating the sound of a dog, knowing that it could be the last time to hear another sound from a living thing, is heartbreaking and to think, it's not really a saddening imitation. I mean, it's Sandra Bullock, known for her comedic antics, howling. It's supposed to be crazy and funny. But she managed to make the theater quiet, while probably most of the audience's eyes were already tearing up behind their 3D glasses. It's also surprising that she has some Ellen Ripley moves in her! The way she moved inside those wrecking satellites were impressive. Her Ryan Stone is definitely in the same league with other bad ass lead characters like Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley in Alien and Jodie Foster's Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. I'm so proud of her! George Clooney turned out to be extremely likable as well. His character, Matt Kowalski, served as the calm astronaut in the middle of chaos in the outer space. The role perfectly suited him as his character has the ideal qualities of a confident man that Clooney is used to portraying. Of course, it also helps that these two actors look good together and their roles here have some attraction going on. There are some weak and cheesy parts in the script but those are easy to overlook as the film's really about the stunning and original visuals with great concept and superb performances.

It's pretty obvious that I love this movie. But I wish I could convince more people to give this film a go and watch it in IMAX. It's worth the time, it's worth the money, it's a great experience, believe the hype as it lives up to it! Gravity is still showing in theaters and I expect it to last a few more weeks. But in case you miss it, I believe that Gravity would turn out to be one of the most popular films of our generation, or at least its genre, that we'd be able to watch it again 10 or 20 years from now. Probably in 4D or 5D. :p

Sunday, October 6, 2013

SEPTEMBER 2013: The Way Way Back, Prince Avalanche, Kings of Summer, Mud & This Is The End

The Way Way Back

Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
With: Liam James, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Sam Rockwell, AnnaSophia Robb

It has great reviews and a lot of people I know from the online community recommended this film. I expected too much and while it didn't disappoint, I'm not too enthusiastic about it either. There is nothing groundbreaking that happened in the film but it has a LOT of laughs that will make your movie experience worthy. It's also not devoid of gushiness.

Best part of it are the performances of the cast showcased with the wit of its screenplay. Liam James as an awkward teenager stucked in a vacation with adults he didn't really enjoy as company was really good in portraying that role. He was good at playing an awkward adolescent. Funny thing is that he's with Amanda Peet in this film. Just 4 years ago, they worked together in 2012. Their relationship in 2012 is still very vivid to me. Aside from being one of my favorite films, I thought they had great chemistry with each other as mother and son. In The Way Way Back, they have different roles but it was kind of awkward watching Amanda Peet grinding her ex-son in this film. :)) Then you also have veteran comedians like Steve Carrell, who characterized a very convincing asshole that will surely irritate you. Toni Collette played Pam, the mother of Duncan who's really good in showing natural and over-the-top emotional acting. It's kind of a Little Miss Sunshine reunion except not really. But hands down, the best performance in this film goes to Sam Rockwell. Everyone's going to like him in this film. My favorite scene in this film involves him. There's always something special with a character who is arrogant but turns out to be the unsung hero of the film. Rockwell's character is the instrument of the real message of this film and he delivered it without being cheesy and stereotypical.

I think this film is really sweet, funny and poignant at the same time. This is a good movie to watch when you're having a bad time. :)

Prince Avalanche

Director: David Gordon Green
With: Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch

Prince Avalanche is a strange comedy about two men working on an isolated highway that's been ravaged by wildfire.

If you're a nature lover, listens to Explosions in the Sky and a huge fan of Friends, on paper, you would appreciate Prince Avalanche. As it is a total show of great landscapes and artistic cinematography, assimilated with great musical score by Explosions in the Sky and David Wingo and displays Paul Rudd's range in acting (Paul Rudd played the love interest of Phoebe in Friends). These are the greatest components of the film. Add to that is Emile Hirsh's (Lance) delightful execution of Paul Rudd's (Alvin) sidekick in this film.

This is also another film that delivers an unlikely friendship between two opposite personalities; one is happy-go-lucky and the other is more reserved. On the second half of the film, both learned a life changing news that strengthened their friendship. As the cheerful and easy going Lance has to face a serious crossroad and the reserved Alvin learns about the true feelings of his girlfriend. Basically, the women of their lives both changed their outlook, strengthening their brotherhood.

This is the third film in a row where I have to say that the leads have good connection. It makes me realize how important chemistry is in a film that features friendship and love. Because to be quite honest, I feel like the film suffers from a shallow, cliché and contrived story. The storyline and the characters badly need more journey and complexity. The film is just okay as it is, it has a conclusion but it's not that groundbreaking especially that it's apparent that they want to touch their viewers' sensitive side. I got no big emotions from this film. It's not captivating nor revolutionary. In fairness to the film though, the quiet scenes were done beautifully. Alvin's mime scene was hauntingly quirky.

I guess it's all about interpretation. Perhaps, it's not groundbreaking as the film is a huge personification of reading between the lines. After all, the lines in the middle of the isolated highway were done by Alvin and Lance. :3

The Kings of Summer

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
With: Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moisés Arias

The Kings of Summer is a simple story of two friends, Joe and Patrick, with their amigo Biaggo, who went to live in the woods. There, they built their own house and live freely without anyone telling them what to do. It's the usual coming-of-age story where teenagers want to experience how to be independent by being away from their parents.

The first part of the film presents the lives of these teenagers with their parents, and how these parents annoy them to no end. This triggers them to live in the woods without telling anyone even their parents. The first part for me is actually quite weak. The film reached its peaked when they started building their shelter, started looking for food and just by doing what they want to do. There's a montage of crazy stuff that they did in the forest which is probably the only thing that I liked in the film. :)) Very reminiscent of teenage years, it will make you laugh and realize that this stage of your life is truly one of the best.

Then it all went downhill when Joe invited her crush, Heather, for dinner in the house that they built in the woods. It turned out to be a disaster as Heather showed her interest in Patrick. Then, not that it's already predictable, Joe accepted this fact and let Patrick have Heather. In the end, they remained friends and stood the test of time >_<. Yawn. And okay, I won't miss to mention the fact that your family, the one you're born with, will always be there and will always be your family.

The trailer made this film so amazing as it didn't give anything but you know that it would be fun and there's probably more to it. The film, however, is the complete opposite as the message of the film is so spoonfed, it didn't leave anything to the viewers. Although I have to give Moises Arias an acknowledgment, the actor who played Biaggo as he's the most integral part of the film. He's very funny and his way of comedy is something that I don't usually find hilarious. I think he's the only one that is effective in this film.

It's good to watch coming of age films from time to time but The Kings of Summer just lacked the depth and failed to live up to its promise.


Director: Jeff Nichols
With: Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Jacob Lofland, Sam Shepard, Reese Witherspoon

Love, family, friendship, growing up, and life, in general -- all of these encompassed in the modern day Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn movie of Jeff Nichols. With its number of subjects, this film can be categorized as a combination of coming-of-age drama, suspense and romance. The last film I watched by Jeff Nichols was Take Shelter which is something I consider as boring. Mud has the same technique Jeff Nichols used in Take Shelter where each scene makes a great build up for its climax. Therefore, having a better effect. But Mud has all the qualities I like in a film, great storytelling, great characters, with great acting. Take Shelter lacks the focus and the charisma that Mud possesses.

Mud also succeeds because of the performances of the cast. From all of the films I've watched from Matthew McConaughey, I think his portrayal of Mud is his career defining performance. All people who see him in this film can definitely say that he can really act and cannot deny that he has the chops to win an Oscar someday for his acting prowess. I assume he's not far from achieving that as he's slowly becoming overdue of at least a nomination with the past snubs of his performances in serious movies like Killer Joe, Magic Mike and The Lincoln Lawyer. His co-star Tye Sheridan was also excellent! For such a young age, Sheridan has the authenticity and depth of the character Ellis, a teenage boy who's struggling to live with his parents on the verge of their separation and who had a rude awakening about the truth of young love. Sheridan's acting here is in fact, very reminiscent of Jennifer Lawrence's Ree in Winter's Bone. I don't know if they just have some resemblance, but both for sure was exceptional with their respective roles.

It's kind of funny because I just watched The Kings of Summer who has a LOT of similarities with Mud. But Mud stands out because of its superb direction, screenplay and cinematography that it absolutely made The Kings of Summer look like trash. The direction and screenplay are sharp as it transcends with each of the scenes of the film. That is of course, with the help of an accomplished cinematography which beautified the film more.

I also love the fact that it almost never showed any kind of sappiness. In fact, it displayed a lot of toughness especially with the characters of Ellis and Mud despite facing difficult times in their lives. It's tough in a sense where the characters show masculinity rather than insensitivity which made the film more affecting to any of its viewers.

This Is The End

Director: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
With: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride, Craig Robinson

You'll miss the crazy ride that is This is the End if you take it too seriously. Evan Goldberg, associated with This is 40, Pineapple Express, 50/50 and Knocked Up with his favorite Seth Rogen, know exactly what they're doing when they created this apocalyptic comedy film starring, an all star comedic ensemble, Seth Rogen himself, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and many more who all play as their fictitious selves. With cameos from Emma Watson, Rihanna among others, this film is a riot and will definitely surprise you. While I'm not a huge fan of some humor used in This is the End, it managed to make me laugh out loud a couple of times than a regular comedy.

Jonah Hill is probably my favorite in the cast. A couple of punch lines about his Academy nomination was either thrown at him or said by him and they never failed to crack me up. All worked on me. Not a fan of Pineapple Express but I already like James Franco and Seth Rogen's duo in this than the former. Michael Cera also brought the laffos as the cast's resident perv who unfortunately didn't last long in this film. But his absence was filled with several hysterical scenes and surprises throughout the film.

The buffoonery in this film, I think, won't be well received by some. It's either you'll stop watching it after seeing a few of its scenes or you'll enjoy it from the beginning to end. Not to mention, several reference about Harry Potter, Forrest Gump, Where The Wild Things Are and even Million Dollar Baby, who was linked to Jay Baruchel, was also a pleasurable treat if you've watched those films! I was kind of disappointed as I thought there's going to be a lot of disastrous scenes but it was easily replaced with the hilarity of the cast so I think, it's still worth it if you want to have a good amount of laugh.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

SEPTEMBER 2013: The English Teacher, Adore, We Steal Secrets & About Time

Starting January last year, I decided to list all the movies I’ve watched for the first time. May it be Filipino, foreign, documentary or short, as long as it’s a film, it’ll be part of my list. My main goal was to reach 100 films so I’d be able to rank them at the end of the year. I had a hard time accomplishing it last year. But as of now, I’m still doing it. In fact, I was able to reach my goal and was also able rank all the films in my list.

This year, I’m having an easy and fun time reaching my goal. I have already reached the 100th mark before July ended. Even I, am impressed. :) I’m not sure if I’m in dire need of LIFE for having so much time for movies, but thinking about it, I actually have more activities now compared to last year. Travel? Like last year, I have plenty. I joined my office’s badminton club this year. I’ve spent more time with my family too. But going back to films, as of the end of September, I’ve already seen 136 films and I’m craving for more!

Last month, I’ve also decided to put some of my thoughts about the films that I’ve watched here in my blog. Not only it would save this blog from being worthless, but it would also help me when I have to rank all these films next year. Plus, I LOVE discussing films so I’m really looking forward to any comments whenever I vomit all my thoughts in this blog. Don’t mind the hideous design. :/

Anyway, if you want to see the films I’ve watched last August, you can refer to this link:

I got lazy writing my thoughts for all of those films but I’ve also explained some movie stuff in that entry so if you wanna check it out, please do so. :)) I also had the wrong approach last month. I figured that if I want to write my thoughts for the films that I’ve watched, I have to write them as soon as possible and it would be better if I write them a few days (better if a few hours) after watching them without reaching, I guess, a week. That way, my thoughts would be fresher and my feelings are much stronger. Waiting for the end of the month to write my thoughts for all the films I’ve watched would be too much of a chore especially if I’ve watched a lot. Like for the month of September, I watched 19 films. I think, one of the downsides of this approach though, is that the tone and my way of writing would be different each time :/ ...but let’s begin! :)

The English Teacher
Director: Craig Zisk
With: Julianne Moore, Michael Angarano, Greg Kinnear, Lily Collins
"Only true romantics never find love"

Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore) is a forty-year-old unmarried English teacher whose greatest relationship is with reading and literature. When a disheartened former student moves back into town after failing to make it as a playwright in New York, Linda decides to step out of her comfort zone and mount his play with the help of the high school drama teacher.

The English Teacher is engaging enough for people who watch films to be entertained. It has a good amount of clusterfuck storylines and laughs for people to appreciate it but the lack of depth is rather unsatisfying. Everything about it screams mediocre to average.

Julianne Moore, as usual, is good though. But from all of her films, her performance in The English Teacher is just in the middle of the road for me. Her Charley in Tom Ford's A Single Man is still the worst. I still cringe every time I imagine her do her forced British accent. Michael Angarano is equally good. Never heard of him prior to my viewing of this film but he portrayed his role well. He got me into liking his character to hating it and to liking it again, same with Moore's Linda. The thing about this film is that, despite its lackluster direction and content, it made me care about the characters especially Linda Sinclair.

Director: Anne Fontaine
With: Naomi Watts, Robin Wright, James Frecheville, Xavier Samuel

The eroticism in the first part of this film is so forced in almsot every scene that it's verging on ridiculous, then you come to accept it as it is and becomes a little better. Then the second quarter became more interesting, thanks to Naomi Watts portrayal of Lil. Her eyes displays a good expression of jealousy and longingness to an unusual affair between her and Roz's (Robin Wright) son (James Frecheille). Then the third quarter kind of sucked, but it inclined to a good twist that managed the film to come to its full circle of mess.

This film shows acceptance of one's condition despite the difficulties of the situation. Love and solidarity succeeds in this film. But the situation in this film is close to unrealistic that only a few would relate to its story or probably none at all. One thing to love about this film though is that it's beautifully shot from first scene to last.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
Director: Alex Gibney
With: Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Heather Brooke 

A very informative documentary about the life behind Wikileaks, its system and how it affects the society and the organization itself. Great storytelling as it enumerates secrets that Wikileaks divulged into public domain, the background of the people behind it and how it hugely affected not only their own lives but the humanity as well. But what's so riveting about the film is that it showed well the fascinating story of Julian Assange, the editor-in-chief of Wikileaks and how he started this program of exposing the secrets of the powerful, dealt with its consequences emerging from media and the involved governments.

Director Alex Gibney managed to push the sympathy towards Bradley Manning, a contributor to the Wikileaks which was incarcerated because of his release of materials to this program. Manning's life outside Wikileaks is interesting enough to be hooked in this film. The illustration of Manning's series of chats with Adrian Lamo deserves its own film/documentary, something I could also say to Assange's life, as Assange proved to be an icon himself. Very charismatic for that matter.

It also showed how easily whistleblowers lives can be put into jeopardy because of what they do to stand up for what they want to achieve. It tackled the consequences and complexities of revealing information to the public whatever his or her motives to do it. It also exposes the dilemma of Freedom of Speech and the ethics of Journalism. Very enticing documentary and a must-see, this film doesn't stop from narrating what we thought we know already, but it also gives us a second thought of what we thought was right and wrong.

About Time
Director: Richard Curtis
With: Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy

DISCLAIMER: I've already posted this in my previous blog. I love About Time too much that it deserves a repeat post and an own entry. :3

 "I just try to live every day as if it was the final day of My Extraordinary, Ordinary Life."

A movie must be damn great for me to be able to watch it, and rave about it after seeing it when the leading man looks like one of my least favorite reality contestant ever. That is About Time with its lead actor, Domhnall Gleeson, whose resemblance from John Cochran (winner of Survivor: Caramoan) is unbelievably uncanny! I actually might have forgiven Cochran already only because of Gleeson in this film. Also, You shouldn't be surprised that this one is good as it is directed by Richard Curtis. He is known for his classic romantic comedy films - such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, Love Actually and Bridget Jones to name some, and this one is a great addition to his filmography which I predict will be considered as one of his classics many years from now.

Gleeson plays this young man, Tim, who seem to always fail in finding his love but not until his father (Bill Nighy) revealed that the men in their family can travel in time.

Based on its trailer, I came into watching this film expecting that it would just be another light hearted, overly romantic and perhaps a tearjerker that will make me feel good. I was right about those but I walked out of the theater gaining more. It's not your usual romantic chick flick because it's actually more of a film about life and family, and that's the reason why I love it so much! It also probably helps that the voice of the story is coming from a guy, which makes it more relatable for men, but hell, sure women would like it too as its probably the cutest film there is. I love Rachel McAdams since The Notebook. She plays Mary here, the love interest of Tim. She has this amazing aura that's always present in her films and she delivered yet another charismatic performance in this despite her character being underwritten. That is possible with the huge help of Domhnall Gleeson (whom I just found out that he was on Harry Potter as Ron's brother, Bill).

Gleeson and McAdams have a terrific chemistry that you would think, Gleeson is probably the best leading man for McAdams in all of her films (yes, I like their chemistry more than Ryan Gosling in The Notebook but that's probably a subject to change if I rewatch The latter). The supporting characters also contribute to why this film is such a freakin' charmer. From Tim's super adorable and quirky sister (Lydia Wilson) to Tim's loving and supportive father played by the ever charming Bill Nighy, to the sarcastic friend of Tim, Harry, who's very reminiscent of Chandler of Friends (except he's much more sarcastic), to Uncle Desmond who will make everyone laugh with his peculiarity and I would go on and on, but this ensemble really worked out!

It also stands out from the melodramatic aspect of other chick flicks. It will make you blush and cringe at the same time, not because what you see is bad, but because it just makes you smile and feel good despite the awkwardness of most scenes. There are several moments in the film when I thought that the relationship of Tim and Mary would falter but the story seems to always go the right way for them and for the audience.

The lesson one would get from this film has already been showcased in many films from the past, which is, as its title indicated, About Time, but for me it's still worth the time to watch it. Heck, I think it's also worth the money to see it in a movie house. I'm already aware of the importance of time in our lives but About Time is a great reminder that everyone should really live their lives like it's their last. See, I'm getting sentimental again! Sue me. :))

I couldn't end this writeup without mentioning its sweet soundtrack which includes some of the most overused and mainstream songs like Friday I'm In Love, Nelly and Kelly Rowland's Dilemma, Sugababes' Push the Button but it also has a LOT of beautiful tracks that I've never heard before. Almost all of the tracks are in my iPhone playlist now. :) It also has Il Mondo in it, their wedding song. I never thought I would put Il Mondo on repeat. Never. I was introduced to this song because my father loves to play it when I was a kid. I've always thought it's insanely old fashioned. After watching the film, it's still old fashioned but man, they used it perfectly! Watch out for the wackiest wedding scene you'll ever witness! Also, I've never liked Ellie Goulding, but her cover of How Long Will I Love You, originally sung by The Waterboys, is fantastic. There are actually two renditions of this song in this film, the first one's by Ellie Goulding and the other one will probably known as the best track associated with the film because it was played in a very cute montage of Tim and Mary celebrating their lovely relationship, that is of course, aside from Il Mondo.

Make no mistake, this film is unrealistic as Santa Claus. It also has some inconsistensies and loopholes with its time travel rules. But no one can take away the roller coaster of good emotions you'll get from this film. It's a romantic love story but it's also a wonderful love story of a father and son that will surely touch most, if not all, of its viewers. Let's face it, we don't see lots of sweet and feel good films lately that's why I highly recommend this film because this one will provide the good vibes we long for our lives from time to time.