Monday, July 27, 2020

Pamilyang Ordinaryo (Ordinary People, Eduardo W. Roy Jr., 2016)

Brocka's children

Eduardo W. Roy Jr.'s Pamilyang Ordinaryo (Ordinary People 2016, now streaming on Netflix with English subtitles) is one of the many and arguably one of the best recent films to continue the brand of social realism Lino Brocka helped initiate in Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975)--if anything, raises the ante on challenges facing the eponymous couple. Aries (Ronwaldo Martin) and Jane (Hasmine Kilip) aren't just homeless they're homeless teens, aren't just homeless teens but married homeless teens with a month-old child named Arjan (a portmanteau of both their names) dependent on their constant hustling pursesnatching shoplifting for bare minimum sustenance.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Neomanila (Mikhail Red, 2017)

Mother and son

(Available for free on Youtube, with English subtitles)

Mikhail Red continues his oddward journey with his third feature set in Metro Manila's mean streets--to be more precise in the city of Pasig, one of the more eccentric corners of the National Capital Region. 

Pasig looks new feels new, the colonial Spanish architecture you see in the rest of the metropolis largely absent; Pasig in my childhood was cogon fields and farmlands till they sprouted neighborhoods then factories then (in the 90s) commercial hubs. Once started the growth barely paused; have not visited in seventeen years but the urban setting of Red's film is an alarming combination of Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell and an upgraded Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag. I mean--even the slums look new, the grime just smeared across concrete walls, the garbage freshly deposited down narrow alleyways.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Scorpio Nights (Peque Gallaga, 1985)

Marriage story

Come finally to the notorious Scorpio Nights (Peque Gallaga, 1985), a quickie production reportedly mounted (by Regal Studios) to take advantage of the promise of censorship-free screenings at the Manila Film Center. Just to make the challenge that much more difficult, Gallaga had suffered a heart attack in late 1984 and was still bedridden when shooting began (he reportedly directed most of the film lying on a portable cot). 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Virgin Forest (Peque Gallaga, 1985)

Enchanted Forest

The film's opening minutes are stunning. Cinematographer Conrado Baltazar seems to take his cue from Vittorio Storaro's work in Apocalypse Now, suggesting the vast seascapes and sensually textured sunsets of the Filipino countryside. A longboat glides down a river through eerie fog (another callback to Storaro) while a narrator sketches details of the American Army's true-life attempt to capture President Emilio Aguinaldo.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Unfaithful Wife (Peque Gallaga, 1986)

Anna Marie Gutierrez

Cafe flesh

(WARNING: plot twists and story points discussed in explicit detail!)

Comes the time to discuss the late great Peque Gallaga. The past few days have seen tribute after tribute; folks have expressed love and affection, not just for his films but for the man himself. His Oro, Plata, Mata (Gold, Silver, Death, 1982) is oft considered his best-known work, and one of the greatest if not the greatest Filipino film ever made.  

I'm not a big fan; yet why does he bother me so? Partly I think because even I can see he's prodigiously gifted--you can't look at the extravagant celebration that opens Oro and fail to acknowledge the talent--partly because I find him so undisciplined. Reportedly the film's original cut ran to five hours--it's said than Ishmael Bernal locked him out of the editing room to trim the length down to a merely intimidating two hundred and ten minutes. You wonder at the excess Gallaga must have proudly put on display before Bernal dragged the production back to earth; you also wonder about each and every one of his succeeding projects, on which would ultimately come out on top: the filmmaking or the recklessness?

Unfaithful Wife is arguably Gallaga's most earnest attempt at domestic drama, with generous doses of sex on the side to help sell the production. Crispin (Michael de Mesa) runs a beer garden with his wife Irene (Anna Marie Gutierrez); Fidel (Joel Torre) walks through the barroom doors and immediately Crispin's face lights up: he misses his longtime long absent friend.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Venganza (Vengeance, Manuel Conde, 1958)

Mario Montenegro as Simoun

Saith the Lord 

Precious little has been written online or on print about Manuel Conde save a book by Nicanor Tiongson (which I haven't been able to read, unfortunately, and is currently unavailable). The filmmaker is best known for his comic Juan Tamad (Lazy John) film series, and for writing producing starring in and directing a smallscale biopic on Genghis Khan that depicted the eponymous Mongol prince as an ambitious, charmingly inventive runt--the film competed in the 1952 Venice International Film Festival, the first ever Filipino film to do so.

Venganza (Vengeance, 1958) which Mike de Leon has made available on his Vimeo website (sans subtitles, alas) isn't as well-known and isn't the Conde we are familiar with: a straightforward drama about peaceful Simoun's (Mario Montenegro) vow of retribution when bandits led by Martinico (Eusebio Gomez) and Peklat (Scar, played by the always memorable Joseph Cordova) terrorize his village and cause the death of his newly wedded bride Pilar (Perla Bautista).

Monday, May 11, 2020

Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

Isabelle Adjani as Shirra Assel

Road to nowhere

Saw Elaine May's Ishtar again after so many decades. In my book still holds up (thank god), an early masterpiece of cringe comedy.