Thursday, January 20, 2022

Best of 2021




Film year 2021
 

was if anything more confused than 2020. The previous year we went into lockdown; last year we emerged  only to go back to lockdown due to Delta, partially re-emerge, partially go back in response to Omicron--a chaotic state. I think the best films didn't reflect that confusion so much as express themselves despite, raising their collective yet distinct voices above the turmoil. Hence:

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971), Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (Lino Brocka, 1974)


Our town

If you're going to film someone's story-- in this case Larry McMurtry's semi-autobiographical novel-- you can do worse than follow Orson Welles' suggestion to shoot in black and white. Faded photos have an allure no JPEG file will ever have; black and white celluloid will have this much over digital color no matter how high the definition-- they're already texture of memories, snipped out and pasted in someone's yellowing album. 

Monday, January 03, 2022

The Tragedy of Macbeth (Joel Coen, 2021)


Sound and fury

Joel Coen's latest is fascinating for what it's not--it's not a collaboration with his brother Ethan, not an original script or remake (or riff off a Greek classic a la O Brother Where Art Thou?), not in color but the rare straight adaptation, in stark black-and-white.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Nightmare Alley (Guillermo del Toro, 2021)

Dead end

(Warning: plot of the 1946, 1947, and 2021 discussed in explicit detail

Guillermo del Toro's Nightmare Alley, adapted from William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 novel, is arguably his most unabashedly grim head trip--leisurely paced, impeccably acted, sumptuously designed and shot, it forsakes the science fiction and horror tropes del Toro is fond of wielding (sometimes like a sledgehammer) to translate Gresham's nihilistic vision to the big screen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

West Side Story (Steven Spielberg, 2021)


Batang West Side

Not sure why people are surprised Spielberg has done a dance musical--arguably he's been making them throughout his career, from the deadly pas de deux between the colossal Peterbilt and little red Valiant in Duel to the lines of police cars snaking behind Goldie Hawn in The Sugarland Express to the Ferris Wheel strolling down a seaside dock in 1941 to the alien ships playing tag across the clear Wyoming skies in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg isn't just a master at shooting people dancing (see the USO dance hall sequence in 1941), he's a master at shooting anything dancing, from cars to saucers to Ferris wheels; the first time we manage to view the entire Great White in Jaws (after teasing us for about an hour) Spielberg cuts to a high overhead shot of the creature gliding smoothly past the fishing vessel (accompanied by John Williams' eerie harpstrings) and we see with an electric tingle shooting up our spine that it's about the size of the vessel. That's why the quip "You're gonna need a bigger boat" lingers so in memory--turns out Police Chief Brody was right. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, 2021)


Power of the perverse

(Warning: some hints and suggestive talk about the film's narrative twists)

Jane Campion's latest-- her first feature in eleven years-- is hailed as one of her finest yet; high praise considering, for the director of Sweetie, The Piano, Bright Star, Top of the Lake among others. 

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Historya ni Ha (History of Ha, Lav Diaz, 2021)



Puppet mastered

Lav Diaz's Historya ni Ha (History of Ha) may be his strangest work yet. If in Ang Hupa (The Halt, 2019) he proposes a Filipino dystopia complete with dictatorship and pandemic and volcano-induced darkness, and in Panahon ng Halimaw (Season of the Devil, 2018) he presents the Philippines' first-ever black-and-white, sung-through, no-instrument musical, this you might say is his Dead of Night--an astringently deadpan blackly comic film about a ventriloquist and his dummy.