Monday, November 26, 2012


November 26, 2012

When I saw the trailer of "Argo," I already felt like the whole story was already shown. I did not feel like I wanted to watch it. The story of rescuing hostages in Iran by pretending they were shooting a movie is simply unbelievable. The star and director was one of my least favorite Hollywood actors, Ben Affleck. However, curiosity still got the better of me when nothing but stellar reviews came out when it was shown. There was even talk of Oscar nominations! This I had to see.

Ben Affleck plays Tony Mendez who came up with this wild idea. He plays it smartly low key in the whole movie. But in that key scene where he announces his idea in the first place, I still feel that Ben was deficient as the lead actor. I would not have been sold the way he delivered the critical line about his suggestion to film a fake movie. It is great though that the rest of the supporting cast succeeded very well in their respective roles. Alan Arkin and John Goodman were very funny as the Hollywood people who help Ben hatch the fake absurd sci-fi project which they dubbed "Argo."

The story is still as unbelievable as I thought. The whole scheme felt so shallow and lame, something only a B-movie producer would greenlight. We are talking about rescuing Americans trapped in Iran in the 70s under the Ayatollah Khoemeini here, and all they can come with was something as ridiculous and far-fetched as this one. But I guess what they say is true, that truth is stranger than fiction. 

Fortunately, Ben Affleck the director was able to sell the whole movie to us in a very tight, tense and assured way. The climactic sequence of the escape proper was done in a rather clichéd Hollywood-y manner, but you can't help but hang on to the edge of your seats. The film editing, the very late 70s style cinematography, the realistic set and costume design all contribute to the success of story telling.

This is a very good suspense thriller yes, but to call it the next Oscar Best Picture I think is overreaching a bit. Like "The Town" before this, Ben Affleck has improved as a director, but the Oscar for Best Director for "Argo" may also be too much of an ambition. Nominations for both categories though are real possibilities, but are more certain in the Supporting Actor and the technical categories.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Paranormal Activity 4

November 23, 2012

I do not know why I keep on watching this wretched franchise. I hated the first two. The third one is a little bit better. I guess I was hoping for further improvement in this fourth one.

Katie and Hunter from the previous film are back. This time, the possessed Katie torments a family living across her house.

This film follows basically the same formula as the others. Laptop cameras were set around the house to record "paranormal activity", until everything escalates into a ghastly ending for the family. There was a bit more action in this one, as we actually see things move or fall within the first few minutes, unlike the first ones where any significant event would only happen after the first hour. The problem is that nothing was being done despite all these videos that they are recording. Don't they review these videos at all? Why record in the first place?

What kind of parents are these Doug and Holly? They do not listen to their daughter's unnatural experiences, who seems to be a normal level- headed girl, not someone prone to wild imaginations. She cheated death twice already! (Incidentally, the pretty young actress Kathryn Newton who plays the daughter Alex is the best thing about this film.) The mom is particularly crazy In the course of this film, she ignored her husband who was nearly stabbed, gave her daughter sleeping pills and left a little child alone in the bathtub.

These severe lapses in logic make this film wallow in the same mire as the others in its franchise. That we are already seeing the fourth installment with all the same tricks makes this one already lacking originality and freshness of the first ones. How many false jump scares can the audience stand?! The use of laptop video cameras was new, but it was clunky and awkward to see Alex run all around and outside the house carrying her laptop.

At least at the very end, we actually see an additional dimension which was only hinted at in the third episode. Because of that, I would bet a fifth installment would follow and people will still go see it. I do hope they inject something fresh into that one or else it would really be curtains already for this series, as many predict.

Monday, November 19, 2012


November 19, 2012

I am usually disappointed when I see a film which came with very high expectations. However, I must make an exception to "Sinister." I had heard very good things about this film making it a must-see for a horror movie fan like me. However, I had to be out of the country during the days it was shown in the theaters locally last month, so I only got to watch it now. And I must say, these high expectations were fulfilled. "Sinister" is indeed a very good horror film. In fact, I will go on to say that it was one of the best American horror films ever made that I have seen.

Ellison (Ethan Hawke, in his first appearance in a horror film) is an author of true crime novels who is seeking to follow up his one hit book. He moves his family into the very home where a gruesome family massacre had previously taken place. When he discovers a box of film reels which turned out to be video footage documenting the deaths of several families, his research turns into a real life horror for him and his family.

The eerie and tense atmosphere is set up from the very first scene where we see four people hanging from a tree. It never let up from there up to the bloody end. OK, there are horror clichés here like the house in seemingly perpetual darkness, or the sudden scares that lead nowhere, creepy children drawing on walls, and so on, but in this movie, these things actually work well to work up the audience's heart rates and goosebumps. The music is pulsating as it is unsettling, very effective to work you up some more with every step that Ellison takes in the house. 

I liked the way that the gore was suggested instead of blatant. I liked the subtlety of many of its scare moments. I liked the way that Ethan Hawke realistically portrayed the tormented but desperate Ellison. A male protagonist is not always as easy to play in a horror film than a female one. I like the ending, how it may seem that you can figure out what is going to happen in the end, but the way it played out was pretty out-of-the-box disturbing and ultimately, shocking. I highly recommend horror film fans to watch "Sinister." It is as it is entitled.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

November 15, 2012

I have just come home from watching this last installment of the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn Part 2 with my wife. I don't know what is with these Twilight movies that we look forward to watching them, simply to see how bad they are. Haha! The poster showing the three main characters running did not hold much promise of a better film.

This film starts where the last film left off. Bella has just given birth to her daughter Renesmee. This supernatural birth brings Bella close to death, so Edward saves her by making her a vampire. Now, when the Volturri find out about Renesmee, they consider her a threat to their existence and hence seek to kill her. Will the Cullen family be able to protect Renesmee and themselves from ultimate destruction?

The beginning of this movie are filled with the same clunky scenes and corny dialog that we have all seen and cringed to in all the previous movies. The very long scene showing Bella's reaction to Jacob's imprinting is particularly hilarious. There was also the requisite Jacob striptease scene strictly for Team Jacob fanatics.

The climactic battle scenes between the Cullens and the Volturri were another matter though. Sure it was pure computer generated mayhem and violence. But for those who have not read the books and just followed the films, there was some imaginative storytelling at work here for a change. I am actually curious how this part of the story was written in the book. I will give this movie an extra point for this part.

In the closing scenes set in the familiar field of purple flowers we have seen before, the whole Twilight saga ends with an incredibly thick serving of cheese. I am not surprised. It ends as it started: cheesy. It never really aspired to be more, so let the Twi-hard fans enjoy this last film while it lasts. So now that it all ends, I'm pretty sure the rest of the world will also be missing Bella and her two other-worldly consorts. We won't have a next film to look forward to nitpick anymore.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


November 13, 2012

"Casino Royale" established a new kind of James Bond in Daniel Craig and his gruff and rough portrayal of the usually cool and suave Bond. "Skyfall" continues to mine this new James Bond persona, as we actually see a James Bond emotional enough to shed tears.  This was not really the James Bond we knew before.   I am getting ahead of myself.

The title "Skyfall" refers to the old Bond estate in the Scottish highlands where James' parents Andrew and Monique Bond were buried. This estate was the site where the climactic booby trap and shotgun battle between Bond and the bad guys took place.

The plot of this movie started from a stolen list of MI6 agents which devolved into a story of revenge of Silva (Javier Bardem in another crazy eccentric character reminiscent of his "No Country for Old Men" performance), also a former MI6 agent, who wants to kill M (Judi Dench) for betraying him in the past.  The ever loyal Bond, of course, does all he can to save his boss, despite being betrayed himself.

Despite the very basic plot, the good thing about this Bond movie is the breathtaking cinematography by Roger Deakins. All those imaginative camera angles and brilliant colors make all the scenes come alive right out of the screen.  I echo other critics in finding this probably the best shot of all the James Bond films. Having Oscar winning director Sam Mendes at the helm, the dramatic trajectory of the story is built up perfectly. As the 50th anniversary presentation of this spy franchise, various homages to Bond lore abound throughout the film, from the classic theme song to the classic Aston Martin.

I felt the simple revenge story line was stretched too long for comfort by maybe an hour. The entire Macau scenes, including the Komodo dragons and Bond girl Severine, could have been excised without really affecting the basic story. However, the amazing cinematography highlighting the best of the exotic locales, the editing of the fantastic action sequences involving trains and the evocative dramatic performances of Daniel Craig and Judi Dench make this still a compelling Bond movie overall.  But no, as I mentioned earlier in this article, Craig's Bond really is not the James Bond we knew before.