The Act of Killing is what happens when fear is institutionalized. The mechanisms and structures built to seemingly keep the fearful monster at bay is revealed to be the more terrifying fiend because it has become normalized. And this is a leviathan of evil, with gangsters and paramilitary groups propped up by the Indonesian military and government. Filipino viewers will not find this strange as they are quite familiar with how power is wielded with impunity in this country.
Emad Burnat bought his first camera to record the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel. His first three sons, he says, mark different phases in his family's life as Palestinian farmers living in the West Bank.
Emad soon finds another use for his camera when the Israeli government puts up a "separation" fence between his village and the newly-constructed houses for Israeli settlers. The fence cuts across the agricultural land farmed by Emad and other Bil'in villagers, depriving them of about half of their own farm lands. The villagers organize a nonviolent resistance against the encroaching Israelis and its military forces. With his camera, Emad documents the struggle to have the fence torn down.
Emad, the farmer turned self-taught cameraman, goes through five cameras over a period of five years documenting his village's nonviolent struggle. One after another, his cameras are smashed or shattered or shot at by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Each camera becomes Emad's witness to the violence perpetrated on his family and neighbors. Each camera, too, chronicles Gibreel's growing awareness of the injustice committed against his father and fellow Palestinians. ✍
I wasn't able to get a copy of this other Oscar Best Documentary Feature nominee. The Gatekeepers features interviews of the surviving former heads of the Shin Bet - Israel's security agency (like the CIA). Watching the trailer and clips, I got the impression that this docu reveals the men behind all those disappearances and assassinations of Palestinians. But what was chilling was the cold-blooded way these former Shin Bet directors would talk about how they kept "terrorists" at bay - and that was just from the clips on YouTube. ✍
For those of you who demand a "faithful" adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's novel, don't watch this movie. Let me say it again, a movie adaptation is a movie and NOT a book.
But for those who expect a creative interpretation of Tolstoy's novel, this one is for you. Tom Stoppard's screenplay and Joe Wright's direction of Anna Karenina project the passion and torments of love on a grand scale. And Keira Knightley's intensity burns up that big screen.
After reading that Tom Stoppard was doing the screenplay, I was excited what he would do with the novel's sprawl. I wasn't disappointed by his choice to locate most of the scenes in a claustrophobic theater hall, complete with the backstage machinery that makes spectacles happen onstage. The setting becomes a character in itself, as it locates the movie's audience as spectators. And so Roger Ebert says in his review, Anna who is caught up in her love for Vronsky "doesn't seem to realize that the audience is right there and paying close attention."
With Joe Wright's masterful direction, the audience (well, at least I was) gets carried along in the waltz (it felt like that, with the cameras sashaying along) among the characters in this sumptuous grand ball of a movie. ✍
I don't know why Kathryn Bigelow wasn't nominated for Best Director, along with the Best Picture nomination for Zero Dark Thirty, in this year's Oscars. They did nominate Mark Boal for Best Original Screenplay, Jessica Chastain for Best Actress, and nominations each for Best Editing and Best Sound Editing.
The movie, with the logline "The Greatest Manhunt in History," culminates in that 30 minutes after-midnight raid on UBL's hideout in a middle-class enclave in Pakistan. But that gripping raid scene, made more realistic and immediate with shots using night vision goggles, is built up through the tedium of intelligence work - especially of the single-minded zeal (not so much different from the fanatical allegiance of the al-Qaeda militants) - punctuated by the depiction of brutal interrogations of captives and of suicide bombings and assassination attempts - as ably portrayed by Chastain in her role as the seemingly delicate but dogged CIA operative Maya. And that ending, with Maya boarding a military cargo plane as its sole passenger, sums up what the manhunt may have meant to her and to the rest of us.
And that buildup to its finish is why Bigelow should have been nominated. ✍
It's difficult to make a movie out of an idea; better to concentrate on the man. But Lincoln wasn't just a man, he was also an idea personified.
And that's exactly what Steven Spielberg (nominated for Best Director in this year's Oscars) capitalizes on in his Oscar-nominated biopic. With Tony Kushner (nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay), he focuses the film around Lincoln's legislative struggle to pass the 13th Amendment calling for the abolition of slavery.
Spielberg is wise enough, though, to embody the conflicting ideas of that period through a superb ensemble of actors whose performance transports viewers to nobler heights even as they witness the gritty and dirty backdoor politicking. Leading the ensemble cast is Daniel Day-Lewis (nominated for Best Actor) who plays Lincoln, Sally Field (Best Supporting Actress nominee) who plays Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd. Tommy Lee Jones (Best Supporting Actor nominee) plays Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the Radical Republicans, who tempers his (then) extreme views of racial equality to rally support for Lincoln's 13th Amendment proposal.
And that is how to make a biopic. ✍
Based on Yann Martel's novel of the same title, this film adaptation of Life of Pi (nominated for Best Picture in this year's Oscars), written by David Magee (nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay) and directed by Ang Lee (nominated for Best Director), is a visually mesmerizing movie.
Nominated for eight other awards (Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Visual Effects, Musical Score, Original Song, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing), I would not wonder if this movie sweeps most of the awards in these categories. Ang Lee truly inspires with this visual feast that surpasses his other films. Bravo! ✍
Beasts of the Southern Wild is, indeed, "the most magical film of the year" if only for Quvenzhane Wallis's spellbinding performance as Hushpuppy -- which earned her a nomination for Best Actress, the youngest ever, in this year's Oscars.
I like how Benh Zeitlin (nominated for Best Director) and Lucy Alibar (nominated with Zeitlin for Best Adapted Screenplay) turned Alibar's one-act play, "Juicy and Delicious," into a fantasy movie that melds real-life issues (like global warming) with a young girl's coming-of-age story.
But what I like best in this Best Picture nominee is Wallis's gripping performance of a daughter growing up in the wilds of a Louisiana bayou and how she confronts life and death plus the dreaded aurochs head-on. ✍
While nominated for Best Picture in this year's Oscars, Ben Affleck who directs and stars in the film was snubbed for the Best Directing nomination. He does win the Golden Globe award for Best Director and the movie for Best Motion Picture (Drama).
Argo was a thrilling movie to watch, even if I knew beforehand that the six made it out of Iran (the story is based on Joshuah Bearman's 2007 Wired article). Affleck and Chris Terrio (nominated for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay), ably aided by William Goldenberg (nominated for Best Achievement in Editing) and Alexandre Desplat (nominated for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score), deliver a well-paced and exciting film that is certain to keep you on the edge of your seat. ✍
A day after watching this, scenes from the movie continue to haunt my thoughts. Perhaps because my parents are in the same situation -- my Tatay takes care of my Nanay after she suffered a stroke two years ago. All my fears about my parents rose to the surface while I was watching the film. I can only console myself that my mother is doing well and my father remains very active even at his age.
But this is not really a movie about old age and death but of love. How will love fare when taking care of your partner becomes a daily chore, when irritation becomes the norm (the wife resenting her condition, and the husband becoming annoyed at his wife's umbrage), and patience IS a much needed virtue.
Amour (2012) is another disturbing film by Michael Haneke nominated for Best Picture in this year's Oscars. From the opening scene with the police breaking down the doors to the old couple's apartment to find only the dead wife, Anne (played by Emmanuelle Riva, who is also nominated for Best Actress), and the husband, George (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, who should also have been nominated for Best Actor), nowhere to be found, the narrative takes a step back to a scene at a piano concert of Anne's former student. Upon arriving back at their apartment from the after-party, the couple finds the lock unsuccessfully jimmied from an aborted burglary. At breakfast the following morning, Anne "spaces out" -- a result of a stroke -- and this scene marks the beginning of a downhill spiral for the couple.
I won't say anything more about the film's narrative except that it is a gripping portrayal of an abiding love. I haven't seen all of the Best Picture nominees, but this sure is a strong contender. ✍
I couldn't breathe during the movie's climactic scenes. I also had to look away because of some gruesome images. I don't usually react this way, however violent the movie.
But what did I expect from a Lars von Trier film, anyway?
And judging from reviews, quite a number share my experience. So where do I side with the movie's polarized audience? Do I agree with the director's fans who praise von Trier for challenging what is cinematically acceptable? Or do I throw in my hat among those who proclaim that von Trier has gone mad?
All I can say is that this movie's scenes are forever seared in my brain. It's not farfetched to speculate that my unconscious has gained a new vocabulary for my nightmares. And if that is what von Trier intended, to provoke our deepest thoughts about our faith and our existence, then this movie has successfully provoked that in me. A day after watching it, I still can't get it out of my mind.
Just watched Ron Fricke's 1992 nonnarrative film Baraka (Blessing) and I'm still reeling from the whole idea the movie is built on, as well as from the montage of beautifully photographed scenes of nature, technology, and humanity.
For someone who usually likes his movie with a solid narrative, I got hooked from the first few shots of mountain scenery then cutting to a close-up of a red-faced spider monkey (?) bathing in a pool. Still waiting for a story to unfold, I got caught in the soulful look of the monkey staring not just at the camera but the viewer it seemed.
And before I knew it the movie reeled me into its haunting meditation -- for me -- on humanity and nature. The series of images set to an atmospheric soundtrack were like mantras, transporting me into a level of visual and spiritual understanding.
Okay, that may have sounded overly dramatic. But hey, even Roger Ebert waxes poetic on this film that he considers as one among his "great movies."
What? That you're smack in the crosshairs of the next disaster, perhaps even the apocalypse? What are you going to do?
That's the premise of Alex Proyas's 2009 film, Knowing, that stars Nicholas Cage as the astrophysicist John Koestler. Cage/Koestler becomes intrigued by a piece of paper his son gets from a time capsule buried 50 years ago. He soon decodes the numbers as predicting disasters around the world -- with each set of numbers pointing to the date, number of casualties, and the location of the event. There are three dates left on the piece of paper that are yet to happen. And that sets the pace for the remainder of the movie.
But more than averting the disasters -- an impossible feat, it seems, as Koestler does not have an inkling in what form it will come -- or minimizing the casualties, Koestler also faces a mysterious group of figures, referred to in the movie as The Strangers, who apparently are able to communicate with his son. This adds a sci fi layer to the disaster flick.
It is this sci fi layer that really became the bummer for me. I mean, the disaster formula kind of worked, but then adding this whole idea of The Strangers -- perhaps aliens who are either responsible for the disasters or are there to help the humans -- kind of stretched the credulousness out of the movie.
Even on this Maundy Thursday and April Fool's Day holiday. As we say in Waray: Gin inuwat la kita.
I had a good laugh watching this short animated film that won this year's Oscar for the category. The 16 minute Logorama (2009) features a Los Angeles made up of logos.
While some may find the movie's concept a bit gimmicky, there is some sense in how the directors portray this particular mecca of gloss and commercialism. And if you take into account how the movie's plot line follows the true-and-tested formulas of action films and disaster movies, with some emotional high points (if anything emotional can be squeezed out of a logo), you begin to ask how you are interpellated not just by logos but also by the cultural artifact that is Hollywood.
But do not get me wrong. The movie is no grim and determined critique of postmodern culture or how we are constructed by brands rather than by honest-to-goodness values -- although it is that too, if you think about it -- but a rollicking action slash disaster movie that will make you think. Watch it.
Finally got to sit down and watch Fernando Meirelles's Blindness (2008). I often wondered how he would transform the apocalyptic world Jose Saramago created in his novel.
I wasn't disappointed at all. Julianne Moore was magnificent in her portrayal of the Doctor's Wife -- letting us feel what she was thinking and feeling in that wretched world that she alone was the sole witness. Through the intensity in her eyes and by how her jaw would be clenched tight, she could as well be mute as the only seeing person in a city where all the people had become blind.
I didn't like Gael Garcia Bernal being cast as the King of Ward 3, though. While he delivered quite a good performance, he didn't quite fit the character I imagined when reading the book. He looked really frail to be the King of Ward 3. Of course, that may be what Meirelles intended -- in a world where no one is able to see anything, size is not necessarily might.
And of course, my having read Saramago's novel Blindness (1995) may have clouded my lenses while watching the movie.
Such a timely read it was then, what with the news about Influenza A H1N1 all over the papers. And with the alarming warnings of pandemic proportions. While there was cause for concern, some of the serious stuff was glossed over by the sensationalized reporting -- moreso on TV. Some of the reports even quoted government and health officials talking about the need to call in the military.
Which brings me to the novel, Blindness (1995), and how it portrays a city and country turning into a version of Hell as one by one the citizens are struck blind. The first few who lost their sight are quarantined in an abandoned mental asylum, with the military keeping watch so that no one escapes to infect others.
But soon everybody, inside and outside the quarantine, are struck blind. And soon humanity becomes its own nightmare. Except for a group of individuals led by a woman, the Doctor's Wife (no name is given her in the novel), who wasn't afflicted with the sudden blindness.
She becomes the only witness to the degradation around her, and sometimes she wishes that she were blind too. But ultimately, she is able to lead her group to a kind of sight -- a kind of hopefulness that lives on in everyone who doesn't forget their humanity.
Watched this during the Christmas holidays. Here's the Wikipedia link for a synopsis of the movie as well as some review and other related info.
Meryl Streep shines as Julia Child, while Amy Adams sparkles as Julie Powell. But what I liked most about the film is Nora Ephron's brilliant screenplay woven out of Child's autobiography and Powell's memoir (based on her blog).
And of course, the scrumptiously photographed culinary dishes.
A passionate tale of love and betrayal, made more riveting by Giovanna Mezzogiorno's portrayal of Ida Dalser, Mussolini's first wife who was abandoned by him and ultimately locked up for life in a mental institution.
Filippo Timi, who plays the role of Benito Mussolini and his son by Ida, also provides an outstanding performance in his role of Il Duce, which he later caricatures -- in his role as the grown-up son of Ida -- mimicking Mussolini rallying the troops and citizens.
As the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) puts it, the combination of "drama, archive footage, and music creating a highly cinematic oratorio of enormous emotional force" (synopsis) sets the heroic tone of the movie.
And, at the movie's end, makes the audience wanting for more.
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