Graceland

Best Foreign Films of 2013

Cinema is a worldwide artform, and as such many of the year’s best and most exciting films often come from overseas. Quality is no guarantee of visibility though as subtitled films rarely get a wide reception in American theaters, and worse, many don’t even make it to our shores until a year or more after opening in their own country. That’s the kind of factor that makes ranking foreign language films a difficult and inconsistent process. I try and go by actual year of release when possible, but for obvious reasons I’m not adverse to including entries that made their U.S. debut this year, too. But these are details… let’s get to the movies! Genre films rarely make “best of” lists like this , but I make no apologies for their inclusion here. Best is best, and if my best happens to include a character named The Queen of Saliva so be it..

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discs graceland

Welcome back to a slightly revamped version of This Week In Discs! As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it. Graceland Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) is chauffeur to Manuel Chango (Menggie Cobarrubias), a salaciously corrupt politician in the Philippines who expects obedience and loyalty regardless of his actions. The two men have daughters the same age, and one day while Marlon drives the girls to school they’re stopped in an attempt to kidnap the politician’s daughter. Things go terribly awry, and the confused kidnappers take Marlon’s daughter instead having mistaken her for Chango’s child. Now Marlon’s only hope is for the politician to pay the ransom in the belief that his daughter is in peril, but maintaining the lie may lead to an even bigger tragedy. Writer/director Ron Morales‘ fast-moving and vicious little film is a fantastically economical thriller that wastes no time diving into a sleazy world where children are little more than a commodity and money beats morals nearly every time. It’s a dark and nasty world indeed, but one of the joys of the film is seeing Marlon act as well as we can expect given the situation. He never frustrates or annoys even as his self dug grave gets deeper and deeper. Read my full review here. [Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, featurette, deleted scenes, booklet]

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review graceland

The value of a really good story hook can never be overstated, but it’s become fairly uncommon these days to find a film that has one. The odds decrease even more when it comes to movies with a fantastic premise and a successful execution of that idea. Ron Morales‘ second feature, Graceland, manages to do both. Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes) is low level driver for a sordid congressman, and while he hates what the elected official does with his free time, he needs the paycheck to help raise his own daughter Elvie. He drives the congressman’s daughter to school every day and makes a habit of bringing Elvie along for the ride, but when a routine traffic stop turns into a botched kidnapping, his life is thrown into immediate turmoil. The captors have mistaken Elvie for the politician’s daughter and are now demanding a hefty ransom. The immoral congressman won’t pay if he thinks his own little girl is safe, so… what’s an honorable and desperate man to do?

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Graceland

Marlon Villar is a man used to doing what he is told. He doesn’t ask questions, he knows what he has to do, and for eight years he’s been doing it right. Carving a living as a driver, it is Marlon’s duty to chauffeur and clean up after Manuel Chango, a congressman with a few immoral tendencies. Graceland introduces the two men following an unsettling event that, while shocking, appears to be rather routine for the pair. They have had a professional relationship for years, one so close that Marlon is entrusted to drive Chango’s daughter to school along with his own daughter Elvie. Villar is also a loving father, a vision not entirely embraced by Elvie, but respected nonetheless. Together they pray for Lina, Elvie’s mother, and Marlon’s wife, who suffers in a hospital awaiting an organ transplant. It is Marlon who must take care of them all, a task he accepts wholeheartedly, wearing the exhaustion on his face nearly every second he is on screen. This is Marlon’s life from sunup to sundown.

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Earlier this week, our own Cole Abaius announced the first wave of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival‘s film lineup. That assault was impressive enough, complete with lots of compelling picks in the World Narrative Feature Competition, World Documentary Feature Competition
, and Viewpoints sections, but today’s release of the final feature film sections is a whole other volley of firepower. With today’s announcement of their Spotlight, Cinemania, Special Screenings, and the 2012 Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, the fest has completed their feature announcements – and made me start to wonder if I should try to hit Gotham for the festival, running April 18 – 29. Picks that stand out to me already include the delightful 2 Days in New York, Chicken With Plums, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, The Giant Mechanical Man, Headshot, Lola Versus, Take This Waltz, Your Sister’s Sister, and Sleepless Night. Check out the full list of films (along with Tribeca-provided synopses) after the break.

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Sundance 2012: Under African Skies

I’ve listened to Paul Simon’s Graceland at least a thousand times (no exaggeration), so if you’re looking for an objective analysis of Under African Skies, Joe Berlinger’s documentary about that seminal work, you won’t find it here. Perhaps someone who doesn’t have virtually every lyric of every song on Simon’s masterpiece memorized, someone who doesn’t tear up just thinking of the “Mississippi Delta shining like a national guitar,” could do a better job of telling you what’s what when it comes to this movie.

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