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.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone)

Anti-social distancing

(Warning: story and plot twists described in explicit detail)

Locked down and stewing in your home, it can be a relief to view the works of Sergio Leone, particularly the later titles. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the WestDuck, You Sucker; and Once Upon a Time in America all have the expansive feel of a tale told of long ago, set in a mythological West (or America) so vast it makes the real thing (glimpsed at in daguerreotypes) feel claustrophobic. A pipe dream, in effect, concocted by your favorite nutty uncle sitting at the fireside with other kids gathered round, listening raptly. 

America, about Jewish gangsters in Prohibition New York, may be Leone's most sprawling ambitious work and possibly his masterpiece but West is arguably perfection, impeccably cast and executed. Even the stunt of using Henry Fonda as villain pays off--as the young boy looks slowly about him Leone inserts shots of his decimated family; enter the killers, emerging from the surrounding brush like wraiths. The killers approach, and at one point the camera following behind swings around to peer at one of the faces and it's Mr. Lincoln--sorry, Mr. Fonda, not so Young anymore, as hired gunslinger Frank. The lined face the pale blue eyes, so iconic in American films, are pitiless here, faintly contemptuous even.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead, Victor Villanueva)

One happy family

Tolstoy started Anna Karenina with the statement: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I'll take that as permission to like Victor Villanueva's darkish family comedy Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead), about a family taking the four or so hours trip down the coast of  Cebu, from the island province's capital to Dumaguete City to attend the wake of their estranged father, the eponymous Hesus. The setup is obviously Little Miss Sunshine--dysfunctional family piles into van to take cross-country trip--but the ingredients and resulting dish are so distinctly Filipino I'd call this a valid variation on the original.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Best films of the 2010s

The best of the past ten 

A grim decade, grimmer now in its passing. Not a lot of comedies on my list, and what laughs are available often die strangled in the throat. Do the films reflect that grimness?  

In ascending order:

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Emma. (Autumn de Wilde)

Matchmaker, matchmaker

Emma. being the latest in a series of adaptations of Jane Austen and the latest adaptation of this particular novel, you want to ask: why? What does director Autumn de Wilde, screenwriter Eleanor Catton, and actress Anya Taylor-Joy bring to an already crowded table?

Monday, April 06, 2020

1917 (Sam Mendes)


Sam Mendes' 1917--about a pair of soldiers crossing No Man's Land to deliver a crucial message--is reportedly the odds-on favorite to win big at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony this coming Sunday. Does it deserve the frontrunner status? Well let me put it this way: