Friday, April 28, 2017

Takaw Tukso (William Pascual)

Fourway

I remember watching Takaw Tukso (rough translation: Passion Play, directed by William Pascual, written by Armando Lao) in a wretched 16 mm print years ago: the film would skip and skitter, and jump (it seemed) entire scenes. Had the vague notion that Boy (Gino Antonio) married Debbie (Anna Marie Gutierrez), and later Nestor (Julio Diaz) married Letty (Jaclyn Jose); also had a notion that Anita Linda played Boy's mother Aling Conching, but just what happens to her by story's end wasn't all that clear. 

What was clear was four extremely attractive people lusting after each other, husband for wife and vice versa--though not necessarily husband for his legally married wife (or vice versa); four young men and women coupling in a variety of combinations and positions, scratching an itch they can't quite reach. By the time of the film's violent climax (at least I think it was violent--the print wasn't very legible by this point) I came away with the impression of a compelling chamber drama, set in a house beside a small auto repair shop in one of the less affluent neighborhoods of Manila--Bergman transposed to Southeast Asia, all sweaty and squalid and begrimed. 


Friday, April 21, 2017

T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)

Choose again
  
I remember the experience of seeing Trainspotting for the first time --the drugs; the impenetrable accent; the band of bent-over addicts posed against the highlands as if they were the world's coolest band; The Worst Toilet in Scotland; the baby crawling on the ceiling. It was a high high, never mind the grim message that heroin addiction is a fast lane to nowhere (or as Mark (Ewan McGregor) might put it "fest loanin tae nowhaur"), Danny Boyle's movie was as startling as they came, one of the most vivid entertainments of the '90s. 

Boy we were stupid then weren't we? 


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders)

Shell sans Ghost

Rupert Sanders' remake of Mamoru Oshii's influential anime Ghost in the Shell is disappointing, but what did they expect anyway? The earlier film's ideas about virtual reality, machine intelligence, and the internet have been digested and absorbed and transmuted by nearly every intelligent science fiction film in the past twenty years, from the Wachowski brothers' (now sisters) The Matrix to Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report (his Dreamworks Studios helped produce this picture) to Cameron's Avatar to Spike Jonze Her to Alex Garland's Ex Machina to Paul WS Anderson's Resident Evil movies, not to mention various episodes of Dr. Who, Legion, and Black Mirror (the latter two arguably being the most inventive science-fiction series at the moment)--and that's only titles I can remember. Oshii's film has been remade several times over, through various interesting and even inspired iterations; Sanders is covering ground that's been thoroughly strip-mined, though one wonders if the subject has been well and truly exhausted (Black Mirror suggests maybe not).  


Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Devils (Ken Russell)

An obscenity

I think The Devils, Ken Russell's fifth big-screen feature, is a culmination of previous works dealing in history (Pop Goes the Easel, The Debussy Film) literary fiction (Women in Love) surreal and sustained passages of cinema (The Music Lovers), the same time it casts a shadow--or glimmers and flashes if you like--over subsequent films: the slippery nature of reality (Altered States) the link between sexual and religious mania (Crimes of Passion) the exploration of mythic origins (Gothic)--here the true story of an entire convent of nuns reportedly possessed by demons in the small town of Loudon. Or put another way: he's explored and experimented throughout his career and thrown everything he's tried and wanted to try into this project, and whenever any film he's directed needs a scene of surpassing strangeness or shock value, he's gone back to this film (or deepwell or treasure chest--or cesspool if you like) for inspiration.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon)

Furry tail

I'll say this much for Disney's live-action remake of their animated feature: it improves on one scene, where Belle (Emma Watson) gushes to the Beast (Dan Stevens) about Shakespeare's Verona-set tragic romance. The previous incarnation of Belle sang about her love of books but never once mentioned a title or author, just details about some generic standard-issue romance (Stephenie Meyer? E.L. James?); at least this one volunteers an actual name, a published work, a real writer.

The Beast rolls his eyes--of course she'd pick that! Belle indignantly demands that he suggest a better alternative, and he promptly leads her to his vast library stack, with shelves stretching above and away from her. Yes the earlier flick did turn on their supposed love of literature but in this one you actually feel the sexy give-and-take of two bibliophiles wrangling over their preferred texts. 

And the Beast's eye roll? Who has ever run their fingertips across a sheet of pulped wood and scribbled ink sniffing its heady aroma and hasn't felt some measure of condescension for the relatively uninitiated? It's the movie's best moment, so funny and honest (particularly because the Beast doesn't think much of his expensive education, possibly because it failed to lead to a high-paying job) it actually made me sit up and pay attention for maybe O an entire minute.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Get Out (Jordan Peele)


Get who's coming to dinner

(WARNING: plot twists and ending to be discussed in detail!)

Call Jordan Peele's sneaky-clever directorial debut Get Out his take on Stanley Kramer's insufferably benign racial warmedy Guess Who's Coming To Dinner with knives drawn out midway between the fish course and dessert. The politeness and civility are still there only like a pair of lips drawn taut to conceal fangs.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Logan (James Mangold)


Old man

(Warning! Plot twists and ending discussed in detail)

The good news: James Mangold strikes gold, parlaying the success of his previous superhero production The Wolverine to direct a sequel but on his terms--low-key, character-driven, suffused with an inconsolable melancholy that I suppose is his hallmark.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker)

Troubling Birth

Nate Parker's best most audacious most brilliant stroke is to take the name of D.W. Griffith's unabashedly racist yet nevertheless great epic The Birth of a Nation and deliberately slap it on his own debut feature, an attempted biopic of controversial preacher and revolutionary leader Nat Turner. More, he does this in 2016, a hundred years plus one since the release of Griffith's film.


Thursday, March 02, 2017

Hacksaw Ridge (Mel Gibson)

Gorier than thou

Mel Gibson's latest Hacksaw Ridge tells the tale of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), who wanted to join the army and serve his country without firing a rifle. 

How's that again? 


Friday, February 24, 2017

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve)


The medium, the message

Denis Villeneuve's Arrival is an oddity of a major Hollywood production: a science fiction film boasting the latest special effects where the effects are at best incidental, a pooling together of men and material resources intent on promoting spiritual (immaterial?) and temporal transcendence to its audience.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Lego Batman Movie (Chris McKay)

Iron Man sucks!

The first twenty minutes of the movie are best (What is it about recent pictures that the first twenty minutes are always best? Have they forgotten to teach the importance of the next eighty at scriptwriting class?): Batman leads a spectacular public life, soaking in wave after wave of adulation with a celebrity's limitless confidence. The joke about his private life--in his vast Batcave located deep within Wayne Island, surrounded by miles of tunnels and tons of memorabilia and armadas of military-style weaponry--is that he doesn't have one; he's basically kidding himself saying everything is awesome when he (and we watching him) know otherwise (In short: life as someone like Trump would have it vs. life as it really is)


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tokyo nagaremono (Tokyo Drifter, 1966) - in memory of Seijun Suzuki 1923 - 2017


You'll shoot your eye out
  
In memory of Seijun Suzuki, 1923 - 2017

Seijun Suzuki's Tokyo Drifter's like a bottle of Hennessy smashed across your face; even through the waves of pain and blood--and even more pain from the liquor seeping into the cuts--you appreciate the taste of fine cognac.

Suzuki doesn't even pretend to be trying for coherence--he goes for the most bizarre effects amongst the most baroque settings (he says that unlike Ozu--whose realism and the feeling of the commonplace is key--he needs to wow his actors with his sets, cue them to what he expects from them in terms of performance). He doesn't try for realism, either--in the eye-popping train-track shootout, it's clear that the hero Tetsu (Tetsuya Watari, a pretty boy whose sense of entitlement on the big screen is for once utterly justified) is walking in front of a rear projection. It's not the rear projection you're supposed to look at--or rather you're supposed to look at it, snort in derision, then be blown away by the utter cool of the hero's walk.




But it's not just attitude and art direction--there's a core of real feeling in this picture. When Tetsu has to say goodbye to his boss and wants to cook for him but the man turns him down, the moment is unaccountably moving--you can see that they love each other as father and son. When Tetsu is helped by a man who betrayed his superior, Tetsu can't help being grateful and annoyed at the same time--he knows the man is good but can't stand what he considers ingrates, purely on principle; loyalty is a prime value for him, perhaps the only value. For all the bizarre elements in the picture the psychology of the film is actually quite coherent, and impressively complex.

The finale--Jesus, what wasn't influenced by it? Casino Royale (The Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, Richard Talmadge-directed romp, not the Martin Campbell snoozefest) if it didn't actually steal the look and humor, followed on its well-trampled path; I'd say the Austin Powers movies as well, only Suzuki's has the stronger colors sharper wit. Think Tim Burton with more attitude, David Lynch on speed, Patrick McGoohan incarcerated on an island operated by Magritte and Bunuel in fiendish collaboration. This is terrific stuff. 


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Split (M. Night Shyamalan, 2016)

Divided

M. Night Shyamalan's Split as of this writing has taken in some $115 million in the United States and $172 million worldwide, all the sweeter considering the minuscule $9 million production budget involved (mostly self-financed), the years of commercial failure and critical abuse the filmmaker suffered.

So Shyamalan's back in a big way, and the question on all our minds is this: what have we bought into/welcomed back/re-created this time, exactly?

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Paul WS Anderson)

Lost in a Roman wilderness
 
Paul WS Anderson's Resident Evil: The Final Chapter begins on a suitably ominous note: Alice (Milla Jovovich) climbing out of a steaming underground exit, looking around, being chased by a vast winged monster while driving a recalcitrant humvee. Welcome, Alice (the name's hardly coincidental), out of the rabbit hole back not into reality but Wonderland. Things are a little different nowadays.

It's been fifteen years and six films so far, with a combined boxoffice of close to a billion dollars, arguably the most commercially successful video-game film adaptation ever. And the rare popular film franchise I might add that features a kickass female in the lead (with an ethnic-and-gender-diverse set of allies, while the villains are mostly privileged white males).


Thursday, February 02, 2017

Sundalong Kanin (Rice Soldiers, Janice O'Hara: 1980 - 2016)



(Belated tribute to Janice O'Hara, 1980 - 2016)

War games

To say Janice O'Hara's Sundalong Kanin (Rice Soldiers, 2014) is clumsy isn't I think a false or fatal flaw--it is clumsy. But it's also by story's end an engaging, suspenseful, even powerful film, fitting successor you might say to her late uncle Mario O'Hara's wartime classic Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God), which dealt in its own way with the moral ambiguities of war. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)



Papa don't preach

Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann on paper sounds like that most tiresome of tales: a free spirit goosing up a prig's life, teaching her how to relax, be in the moment, grow a sense of humor. Basically the plot of half of Robin Williams' movies (though for the record the films by Michael Richie, Terry Gilliam and Robert Altman I liked), Steve Martin's (though his collaborations with Herbert Ross, Fred Schepsi, and Carl Reiner I liked), John Candy's, a host of other Hollywood comedians.  

Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) teaches grade school music and is an incorrigible somewhat disturbing prankster--early on for example he makes his face up as a ghoul to pay tribute to a departing teacher; later at a lunch with family (and still wearing the makeup) he informs them that he has a side job at a retirement home--50 euros per death. His daughter Ines (Sandra Huller) is an ambitious up-and-comer in an international consulting firm, constantly on the cell phone, constantly traveling to other countries. The two aren't close: Winfried and his wife divorced and Ines grew up with her mother. Winfried only finds out at the lunch that Ines is celebrating her birthday early and has no gift for her; Ines in turn is palpably uneasy talking to him. When Ines flies to Bucharest for an important meet Winfried suddenly pops up at her office lobby to deliver his promised birthday gift, announcing that he's staying a month; Ines scrambles to close the deal and accommodate her dad at the same time.

If Ade largely avoids the pitfalls of the genre that's no small achievement. Peter Rainer at The Christian Science Monitor wonders at the oddity of a German comedy and wonders further if perhaps this is why most critics are rapturous about the picture; I think it's a tad more interesting than that. Simonischek, a hulking bristly man, doesn't play Winfried the way an accomplished comedian would; his schtick is more awkward than polished, his hunched massive frame half-ready to apologize for whatever absurdity he's about to commit, and he often gives up or admits it's a joke part of the way through; folks react with a blank face, unsure what to say, then give a polite nervous chuckle. It's like Open Mike night at the local comedy club: someone steps up halfway sure he's going to bomb, and you can't help but clap in embarrassed sympathy.


Monday, January 16, 2017

La La Land (Damien Chazelle, 2016)


L.A., L.A. 

(Warning: plot and narrative twists discussed in detail!)

Damien Chazelle's La La Land takes quite a few chances evoking old musicals--on one hand the classics help adds a nostalgic glow to his picture; on the other audiences might be too distracted by love for those films to look kindly on this one (see Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist and its use--some would say theft--of Bernard Hermann's score from Vertigo).

Chazelle does wear his movie love openly on his sleeve and to that extent his passion is hard to resist: this latest effort takes the storyline of Martin Scorsese's New York, New York (two artists Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) trying to succeed in a major American city), ornaments it with the bright colors and (towards the latter half) bittersweet tone of Umbrellas of Cherbourg, caps the story with a lengthy stylized dance number reprising the whole narrative, a la An American in Paris


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Best of 2016



Terrific films, terrible year

Can't include any horror films because to my mind the entire genre has been rendered not only unfrightening but totally redundant by the world's recent turn into fascism. Can't in good conscience include any film that deals directly with aforementioned recent events because 1) there aren't that many and 2) I suspect we need to digest what's happened for a few years before the proper level of disappointment and anger and artistry can be expressed.