#348: Apt Pupil

23 August 2011

I feel a bit guilty for not being able to keep up with my posts. It’s a great satisfaction to watch more than one film a day and talk about it for hours until you end up talking about another film, and so on. So I obliged myself in watching my sister’s latest flicks (well, not exactly the latest but newly owned films) which I can add up in my growing list of films I’ve seen this year. Today, I’ve rewarded myself with a Brian Singer classic Apt Pupil which stars the late Brad Renfro opposite Ian McKellen (Gandolf in the LOTR film adaptation). This film also stars Joshua Jackson and David Schwimmer.

Brad Renfro, who grew popularity in the 90’s in the Joel Schumacher film The Client plays the role of Todd Bowden, a young achieving high schooler who grew fond of Nazism after passing his paper about the holocaust. On his way home he realizes his elderly neighbor who aliases as Arthur Denker was a former Nazi Obersturmbannführer named Kurt Dussander who escaped from the war and is now considered a war fugitive. Todd knows the old man’s real name and his old profession and he blackmails him into telling him stories of the holocaust.

The more he spends time with Dussander, the more he seems to be detached with his studies, his own normal unconscious slate, even with his girlfriend. In turn he conceals his bad grades from his parents, turning to the man he blames to be causing his sudden failure. Dussander then uses the boy’s situation to sort of “control” him in a way, like pretending to be his grandfather during his parent-teacher counselling with guidance counselor Edward French (played by David Schwimmer). Due to this meeting with the guidance counselor, Todd is forced to stay frequently after school at Dussander’s house to do errands, study harder, pass his grades and do one last chore for him.

One evening Dussander, while dressed in his army uniform provided to him by Todd as a notorious gift, he is noticed by a hobo neighbor of his while picking up empty bottles of wine. They meet again the next evening on a bus ride home. The hobo thinking that he might trick the old man by giving him more wine and afterwards money insists on helping Dussander with his groceries. A sinister turn of events occur once Dussander permits the hobo into his house. He stabs the hobo in the back and drags the bleeding man into his basement up until he gets a minor heartattack. He kicks the bleeding hobo into his basement and rings up Todd.

He advises Todd that he needs him to do a chore for him and that he cannot do this as he is having a heartattack. Todd lies to his parents telling them that he needs to read a letter to Denker.

As soon as he arrives Denker’s home, he finds the old man having a hard time breathing as well as the dinning room in rumbles. Denker, still not finished with his evening plans asks what to do since he’s having a hard time breathing. Todd remains to be confused, as what every twelve year old boy in that case would feel (panic would never be the first reaction they would admit), but follows anyway since there seems to be nothing that he can do (except, I don’t know. go home. forget about the old man and let him die there..). He asks Denker what had happened. Dussander/Denker says he’s done it as an act of self-defense. As Todd screens the room, he finds the man lying in the basement, still with a knife stuck behind his back. We’re taken into a close shot between Todd and the lying man and the door. Which could possibly mean that there’s something fishy in this scene.. and voila! Denker shuts the door leaving Todd with the hobo. In this scene, we’re supposed to believe that this is where Todd unleashes his pristine evil, that sense of pleasure he’s been dreaming of, he’s been reading about, and he’s been thinking and finally will be able to live about. But for some reason the execution seems natural. Natural in a way that makes Todd a natural evil person, not something of an Apt pupil as the title serves.

Anyway, so the hobo dies of course. The cops arrive, as well as Todd’s parents. The teacher and his pupil have created a story for themselves wherein a guy had forced himself into the old man’s home while the pupil reads to him a letter, in German. Denker is forced to go to the hospital as well despite fear of compromising his identity in public. Todd cleans up the mess left at the scene and throw away every evidence of that night and of Dussander’s real identity. But trauma is as strong as a very nurtured memory. Apparently Dussander’s roommate in the hospital turns out to be an old detainee at the death camp in which Dussander was a high official with a very familiar face.

And so, Dussander chokes himself to death rather than sparing his life on a death sentence, Todd graduates high school in high honors, and Edward French’s undeveloped character gets a little breath of rehab from Character Development and plays a minor role in uncovering the real relationship between Dussander and Todd. Todd’s narcisistic evil character blackmails Mr. French by coming to terms with his ex-Guidance counselor’s sexuality.

Not bad for a suspense film. As for an adapted story from a book? Nah, I was never really a fan of these books – to – film genres, except for Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice though. I haven’t read the book version of this but I’m hoping it’s better.

If you are scared of Nazi inspired films, then this will be a huge shocker for you. But if you’re more interested in what Brad Renfro had to offer, then I recommend you watch this film. He was never, by any chance, overpowered by Ian McKellen’s unsurpassed talent. It’s script, I must say, would be convincing, just as long as you don’t have the book version in mind and for comparison.

#352: Crazy, Stupid, Love

20 August 2011

As I’ve promised myself when I saw the [short] sneak peak of this film on HBO’s Movie review stint, I am very much happy to say that I have just seen this film.

I haven’t had enough sleep to stretch the nerves of my brain on a smart film. And lately, I have been feeling a bit depressed to either talk to myself or listen to any advise anyone can give about anything. So, I settled to watch (and pay..) for something whose plot I read at the movie board and summary I’ve seen in HBO to be just simple and charming.
Crazy, Stupid, Love is a film that I would agree to be refreshing, irrational, cute, funny, a bit witty, and would most likely be a favorite among the popular kids these days. It’s film begins with Julianne Moore and Steve Carrell as Emily and Cal Weaver sitting in restaurant deciding what to eat until one of them breaks the ice and asks for a divorce. The person whose heart had just been torn to pieces and perhaps might spend the week with his kids during weekends would have to be Steve Carrell. Soon after his wife announces she wants to split, he tries to regain himself by leaving the house at night and talk to himself at a bar. He wallows as he imagines and constantly repeats to himself that his wife had just screwed David Lindhagen, her co-worker.

Ryan Gosling’s character Jacob notices Cal and immediately becomes his life guru. He teaches Steve to get up on his Salvatorre Ferragamo shoes and date women so he can move on with his life and on his ex-wife.  Another story builds up a couple of nights before when Jacob sees Hannah (played by Emma Stone) at that same bar. He tries to play the game on her but she seems smart enough to fall for his tricks, and also since she’s in love with a co-lawyer played by Josh Groban. Since he can’t figure out why she seems so different than all the women he’s met, she becomes his impression of a dream girl.
Meanwhile, newcomer actress and former America’s Next Top Model contestant Analeigh Tipton who plays as the babysitter Jessica for the Weaver’s. Apparently, Steve and Julianne’s son is in love with her and constantly bothers her either at school or at home by constantly professing his love for her while admitting to him that she’s in love with someone older and mature.
Anyway, before I’m about to spoil you with everything, I’m gonna stop right here. What I like most about this film is that it consistently brings that fresh perspective on a romantic film. Directed by Glenn Ficara and John Requa (both responsible for I Love You Phillip Morris)and written by Dan Fogelman (responsible for Cars and Tangled). Although Steve Carell and Julianne Moore didn’t exactly seem like the perfect team up, they were alright to represent the roles they were provided with. Steve Carell’s acting makes it a lot more funnier with drama and depression mixed in his face. I should credit Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling as well for playing their characters so well that at the back of my mind I couldn’t help but get giggly with it.
I had a couple of laughs while watching this film. Mushy parts are to be expected of course. It kind of reminds me of the pinoy film Got to Believe and it feels like a mash-up as well between that film, Valentine’s Day and any John Hughes film without trying to be John Hughes. I tell you you must watch this film. And bring your parents, too.

#360: Shadow of a Doubt

8 August 2011

Joseph Cotten seemed familiar to me the first time the camera had closed up on his face as he laid on his bed while his maid reported to him that two men were looking for him. As my sister had raised up the other film I had promised and had kept erasing from this list since I haven’t fully finished it, we remember now that he too stared in Carol Reed’s The Third Man.

I’ve already seen this before in Cinemax but never had gotten the title. I felt then that this film could be a Hitchcock film. The feel and the music seemed similar. It was just the actors that made me think twice. Hitchcock is best known to use two of his favorite actors in Hollywood: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. Or if the latter was not available (like when she got married and became Princess to Monaco, she neglected to play the part of Marnie in Marnie as a comeback to movies after her marriage. The role ended up to Tippi Hendren instead. The same blonde he used in The Birds) he selected from wide range of Blondes that were available. In this film, he cast a brunette Teresa Wright.

A man who turns out to be a charming and calculating killer phones up his relatives in the sleepy suburb of Santa Rosa to tell them that he’ll be staying with them for a while. The man’s name is Charlie. As he arrives, he befriends and charms (in a freaky, incest-ish way) his niece and namesake Young Charlie. He gives his sister, his brother-in-law, his other niece and nephew gifts. As he gives Young Charlie a ring with an engraved name she couldn’t make up of, she begins to have suspicions about her uncle to be the Merry Widow thief.

When Uncle Charlie suspects too that Young Charlie might have doubts about his purpose and his identity, he plots her death to protect his secret. The film ends as one of them dies and everything ends like nothing at all has ever happened.

This film is said to be Hitchcock’s most favorite film. Screenplay co-written by the great Thornton Wilder, along with Sally Benson and Alma Reville, this film also co-stars Henry Travers (the guy who played the angel Gabriel in Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life), Patricia Colinge, Wallace Ford and Hume Cronyn. Although this wouldn’t be my favorite Hitchcock film, I loved it’s cinematography and the way each scenes were built to build up enough tension for suspense especially between the main characters.

#359: The Birds

The Birds is Coming!

10 August 2011
This would be the third time I’d watch this nature-gone-berserk thriller from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock in my entire lifetime. Written by mystery-crime novelist Evan Hunter (if you’d notice in the opening credits, his name too gets 50% credit, same as Hitchcock’s. That’s ’cause according to Evan Hunters short biography about this film and his work experience with Hitchcock entitled ‘Me and Hitch’, Hitchcock had asked the projectionist to place Evan’s name to 50% in the opening credits, right before Hitchcock’s credits would come in at 50% as well of course.) who worked on the screenplay in September 1961. The film was released in the Museum of Modern Art Theatre on 27 March 1963.

The movie is based on the novella of the same name by suspense writer Daphne Du Maurier. The book however is about a farmer and his wife whose crops are being attacked by massive flock of birds until they too were attacked. When Hitchcock approached Hunter about the story, he said that he didn’t want to work on a farm in Britain and most certainly would not use an inarticulate farmer and his dreary wife as main characters.

And so, a couple of brainstorming after, they came up with famous characters such as glossy blonde beauty Melanie Daniels (played by then unknown Tippi Hedren, who ironically had her then infant child named Melanie. Yes, she turned out to be Melanie Griffith. Who knew.), the brunette school teacher Annie Hayworth (played by a low-voiced Suzanne Pleshette), the bachelor criminal lawyer Mitch Brenner, his mother Lydia played by Jessica Tandy, Cathy Brenner, and of course Hitchcock’s feathered friends who brought terror to Bodega Bay —- a total of 3,407 pieces of birds.
The story apparently begins as a screwball comedy between Melanie and Mitch when they both meet in a bird store in San Francisco. Mitch mistakens her for a saleslady when he recognizes her face as the daughter of a big newspaper company as well as for her being in court recently for something she did in a fountain in Rome. Melanie plays along as Mitch asks if he can buy some lovebirds for his sister’s birthday this weekend. Later on when they both uncover that they were only fooling each other, Melanie gets his plate number and rings up one of her friends to locate his address. She too buys lovebirds and sends this to his address only to find out he’s gone to Bodega Bay for the weekend. She leaves in her convertible, wearing a mink and a green dress very much looking like the grand socialite that she is. She rents a boat and travels to the Brenners’ home to drop off the lovebirds and leaves a note for Mitch’s younger sister. As she travels back to the other end of the dock Mitch sees her and drives all the way to the other side to fetch her. It would have convinced me that this would be the start of an icky love story. But as soon as Melanie gets to the other dock a seagull attacks her for no reason. Suddenly thousands of birds begin to flock the town, which had caused in burning a local gas station, creating massive frenzy while several school kids attempt to do a fire drill “silently”, and attack homes by simply pecking and coming into chimneys and crashing into windows.

Forty-eight years later, we still don’t know why the birds attacked Bodega Bay. Many speculate that this may have been a real story that happened in California which Hitchcock may have been inspired from apart from the Du Maurier story. This remains a true classic in which cinephiles and movie-lovers must see above any other suspense film on their list.

#367: Busong (Palawan Fate)

3 August 2011
Where do I start explaining how it felt like watching this Cinemalaya 2011 entry by Aurelius Solito? Well the film starts off in a freshing by the beach view of Palawan as two half naked locals carrying a woman in a duyan on a stick (its literal english translation is swaying bed..on a stick). But I guess we should move a little backwards, ten minutes before the film starts wherein the announcer asks the film’s director and screenplaywright Aurelius Solito to introduce his film. I’m not familiar of his films except that I’ve seen his name mentioned before in Cinephiles. My friend Chris tells me that his credits include several gay films and some other entries in Cinemalaya which includes his most famous work, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros). As it turns out, Solito’s film was featured in the Cannes 2011 Directors’… As he spoke, he introduced the film as a collection of folk tales he learned from his mother about Palawan. He says he stayed in Palawan for about 5 years hence the translation of the film means Palawan Fate. He even thanked his literary teachers in UP as well as his film teachers, one of his main star Alessandra de Rossi whom he says would be one of the most efficient actors he would like to work with after this film. I looked forward to the promise of a touching, eloquently made story. What I completely felt about the film I would express in a couple more paragraphs..
And so the movie is a collection of three folklores in Palawan. Story 1 is about a man named Tony who works as a lumberjack (magtotroso) who also promises to his wife, Ninita that he will never cut the sacred Amugis tree for as long as they will live. Apparently he dies after cutting one. But an evening before that incident, Tony also promises Ninita that he will metaphorically give her fire that doesn’t leave a mark and dies but one that will blaze forever. So, with the faith that the local Shaman might still be able to bring back her husband back to life, they attempt to relive Tony’s dying body but it’s already too late.
Story number 2 is about a father, a son and the secret name of the stonefish. It shows us how we must respect all kinds of creatures, which is mostly why our parents (I don’t know about yours but mine tell me lots of stories such as this) tell us fables to mainly point out the moral of it. Story number 2 is mainly my favorite because for some reason, the scenes in this film keep jumping out like a jack in a box that I really, really do not want to open. But story number 2 is fluid and subtle, the way good stories are supposed to be told. Plus, the color of the actors skin match perfectly in the bright, sandy tones of the place. The dialogue is even better. There is a part wherein the American who “privately” owns the island played by Chris Haywood bickers at the father and tells him to read the document showing that dynamite fishing is not allowed in “his” land. Perhaps father’s role doesn’t allow him to read, and so Haywood’s character laughs at father and tells him “You are indeed a Palawan.” Almost saying “you know nothing.” But father fights back and says “Oo! Tama, isa nga akong Palawan. Bago pa ipinangalan ang islang ito na Palawan, ako, ang mga magulang ko, at ang mga ninuno ko ay tinawag nang Palawan!” (“Of course! That’s correct. I am a Palawan. Even before this land was named Palawan, me, my parents and my ancestors were already Palawans!”)
Story 3 is about the siblings played by Alessandra de Rossi and Clifford Banagale and a guy who’s character’s name is Aris. Aris who currently lives in Manila is anxious to go back to his hometown. He meets his old friend and thinks that the boy he’s with is his friend’s son who was named after him. He’s surprised to find out that his friend’s wife and son died years before. The part where he begins to talk to the siblings is something that I was unable to follow, and I bet you I haven’t left my seat since the movie started because I wanted so much to have the jumping scenes end. Anyway, Aris told them, like most of the people in the film tell them that the two should visit the local shaman to have Alessandra’s wounds be cured. In the end, he expresses that he wants to be a shaman as well and with the help of the dead shaman’s spirit he cures Alessandra’s wounds.
There are several techniques used in the film to depict some sort of meta message that would apply in real life. The camera angles to show the beauty and secrets of the place were sufficient however what I don’t like about this film was how some non-dialogue shots just seemed hanging. This film looks like it’s made for people with massive creative thoughts but the scenes and the lines didn’t seem enough to evoke anything usefully creative in me. What I mostly thought was that maybe this film could get better. Maybe, just maybe..
Just to redeem this film, it’s not at all a bad film. Although I remained indifferent up until two days ago while I was writing a very lengthy review about this film, I understand the use of flashback to tell the stories. Metaphors are very evident even in the most little details. But the more I thought about the film, the more I thought I kinda like it. The use of the local dialect was just perfect.
I’ve seen two films in this year’s Cinemalaya, and I’m hoping this one’s not the only film that I can call as the best.