Sunday, January 25, 2009

A blog (this one) wins an award, a festival (Rotterdam) hosts hungry ghosts

First things first; hugely proud of the fact that Peter Nellhaus' Coffee, coffee, and more coffee has seen fit to pick this blog as one of five for the Dardos Awards, for "recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web."

"Dardos winners must do the following:

1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person who has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.

2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award."

So in that spirit, I choose five other awardees:

1). The Search for Weng Weng - Andrew Leavold not only papers his blog with the coolest wallpaper image ever (of Weng Weng, of course), but also uncovers with fanatical thoroughness more details about pulpy Asian films in general and Filipino films in particular than any kwailo has the right to know (we plan to deal with him soon enough--we have sufficient bamboo) Plus, if you happen to search for it, the blog contains as far as I can see complete filmographies of Celso Ad. Castillo, Gerardo de Leon, and other exotic and incredible riches.

2) Concentrated Nonsense - Alex Tioseco is that rarity of rarities, a film critic who's also a male model (no, really). But if girls find him good looking (personally I wouldn't know--I'm not a girl) I find he also has a working awareness of international cinema, and brings that perspective to his increasingly infrequent (what gives, Alex?)writings on Philippine cinema. He's also founder and editor of Criticine, possibly one of the best online journals about Southeast Asian cinema.

3) Lessons from the School of Inattention - the irony being that oggsmoggs' rapidly expanding blog implies he's anything but inattentive. Oggs is a lawyer--young one, too--and for him film criticism is more a hobby (it was the same for me once, is so again); but his sharp legal mind stands him in good stead, as he shreds hack filmmakers' defenses to shreds....

4) Sari-Saring Sineng Pinoy (roughly translated, Differing Filipino Films), Jojo De Vera's blog is a cornucopia of screenshots, plot summaries, and cast lists of Filipino films mostly from the'70s and '80s, some of them I've never had a chance to see. De Vera's an enthusiast, but at least once he's done something I've only dreamed of doing: save a Filipino film. Browsing in a garage sale, he came upon what is now believed to be the only surviving Betamax copy of Lino Brocka's Tubog sa Ginto (Dipped in Gold, 1970)--the actual negative has long since turned to vinegar. A hero, in my book.

5) Ka Pete, which is basically the formidable Pete Lacaba's venue for his articles, thoughts, what-have-you. Lacaba's more literary in orientation (he's an accomplished poet and essayist); what makes his blog a cinema blog as well is the fact that he's responsible for perhaps half a dozen of the Philippines' finest films. I'd also written about his absolute sense of integrity, almost to the point of obstinancy. Another hero, both in the shadow world of films and the real world of politics and moral action.

The Rotterdam International Film Festival is hosting a special section devoted to ghost stories, and has been kind enough to ask me to write a short article on the subject (if the article's at all available online, I'll post a link). I've seen perhaps six of the films in the selection, two of which, Rico Ilarde's Altar (2007) and Sa Ilalim ng Cogon (Under the Cogon Grass, 2005) I've written about before. As for the other four--

4bia (Youngyooth Thongkonthun, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Parkpoom Wongpoom, Paween Purikitpanya, 2008) is an omnibus film of four shorts with wildly differing styles, tones, subjects. The first--about a girl trapped in her apartment because of a broken leg (Rear Window, anyone?)--does an admirable job of keeping a tight grip on our attention, even when the thirty or so minute running time has no dialogue (the filmmaker drops the ball towards the end, though, I think). The second is basically a variation on the Final Destination movies. The third, a camping trip where one of the members dies and haunts the rest of the group, is easily my favorite, a bizarre mix of The Others and, of all things, Deliverance (comic horror is so rare and hard to do, I appreciate what little comes my way). The fourth is the most handsomely produced, a female version of George Miller's remake of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet in the Twilight Zone movie, only here the stewardess doesn't deal with a gremlin on the wing of the plane but with the plane's only passenger, a fresh corpse.

I keep mentioning influences; I don't mean to imply that the filmmakers slavishly imitate their Western counterparts--if anything, they use the source material as jumping-off points to create truly bizarre scenarios. In the case of Lee Kwong Yiu's Yes, I can see dead people, the influence of The Sixth Sense is clear, only Lee adopts a breezy tone and at one point has his hero admit that almost all his friends are dead, and that he can see them still walking afterwards. The film becomes more straightforward unfortunately, the breeziness lost, but for a few minutes it's nuttier and creepier than anything Hollywood has come up with for the past few decades.

Shinya Tsukamoto's Akumu Tantei 2 (Nightmare Detective 2) takes a page from Tarsem Singh's The Cell (which in turn takeas its cue from Roger Zelazny's The Dream Masters) and offers us a gumshoe who stalks the alleways and mean streets of our nightmares--only (and this is Tsukamoto's one clever stroke) all nightmares are really outgrowths of the detective's nightmares, all childhoood tramuas a reproduction of his own childhood trauma. Not crazy about Tsukamoto's shaky cam style (I like my J-horror imagery preternaturally still, the way Hideo Nakata or Kurosawa Kyoshi does it), but he does possess a distinct (his breakout feature was Tetsuo the Iron Man) sensibility.

Then there's Joko Anwar's Pintu Terlarang (Forbidden Door, 2009), which doesn't seem immediately inspired by any Western film at all--well, you see a bit of David Lynch in the surrealism, the horror of reproductive sex (and isn't that the white picket fence from Lynch's Blue Velvet making a cameo in one scene?). Anwar seems to know that the most effective ghosts are really guilt-drenched memories, the most frightening curses of all self-imposed. Excellent film, one of the best I've seen from this lot, and one of the best in Asian horror I've seen all year (but I forget--the year's only beginning).

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