Saturday, August 08, 2009

Ronnie Ricketts for National Artist!

If Carlos J. Caparas can be National Artist just like that, why not Ronnie Ricketts?

I'm serious. I've seen Caparas' films, I've seen Ricketts' films, and I'm telling you, the latter is a real filmmaker, with talent and passion and (unlike Caparas) a becoming modesty.

Here's an article I'd written on Ricketts, in the Manila Chronicle, 7/26/97

Solid-Fueled Rickett

HARD TO BELIEVE, BUT THERE YOU ARE: of all the recent actors who've tried their hand at directing, the most promising seems to be Ronnie Ricketts. Ricketts onscreen comes off as a quiet, unassuming action star with day-old stubble and excellent kickboxing form. Not exactly material for Aspiring Director, which usually calls for an actor who's won a number of dubious acting awards (nowadays all local acting awards are dubious) and an ego to match.

But Ricketts is the real thing. His budget for Hawak Ko, Buhay Mo (Your Life in My Hands, 1997) can't come up to more than a fraction of Mission Impossible's budget, and he still manages to make lively action sequences that rival Impossible in energy and inventiveness. Without the money for a Steadicam, he simply keeps the camera handheld: the resulting jumpy, restless images charge up the audience, keeping them on the edge of their seats; the secret of his cinema seems to be in the wrist, which is kept fast and loose and funny.

He has three weaknesses that I can see: his editing can be tight when the situation is tight and someone wants to manhandle someone else, usually with both bare hands; and he knows counterpoint--a few fast cuts, then a sudden image in slow motion. But in between the action set pieces, the film is oddly slack. Ordinary scenes which shouldn't trouble more conventional directors are long and drawn-out; dialogue in particular is a real pain. Once in a while the editing can get too tight, and you don't know where you are in the fight scene--a cardinal sin for an action director. Can't emphasize this too much, but the greatest action directors on film are great precisely for their clarity--Akira Kurosawa, John Ford, Howard Hawks. Even Sam Peckinpah with his furiously edited violence never allowed you to get lost (His slow motion is cited as a trademark style, but it's more than that--it's one way he lets you know what's going on).

Ricketts is competent with actors, but only competent. He still doesn't let his actors or himself break out of that stop-start style of declamation that's standard with local action flicks--you know, the scene where the hero faces the villain and they declaim their respective philosophical positions on the meaning of life in endlessly convoluted speeches before trying to whack each other's heads off. It's a formula, true, something the local audience tends to expect, but he could at least subvert the convention, give it a satiric spin the way Anjo Yllana does in one of his action-comedy capers--can't for the moment remember which one.

Michelle Aldana does well in what's largely an ornamental role. Her affair with Ricketts is nicely low-key, with minimum dramatics. Ricketts himself isn't really acting; this is the persona his fans are familiar with, a mix of melancholic vulnerability and driven determination, badly in need of a shave. Ricketts seems to model himself after Clint Eastwood, an approach which has its advantages and drawbacks--the drawback is that Sergio Leone once referred to Eastwood as a block of marble you have to shape yourself; the advantage is that, well, he is after all marble, which easily gleams once the polishing is done.

Complementing Rickett's block is Michael De Mesa's fine-grained performance as villain (asked about Robert De Niro, Leone considered him not a block but a finished work of art). De Mesa isn't given equal billing or even equal screen time but his slyly perverse grin and laser-sighting eyes have a way of burrowing under the skin, to the point that in the final faceoff with Ricketts, he achieves a larger-than-life stature. It's been years since I felt any kind of shudder in a Filipino action film (the last time might be in Mario O'Hara's noir masterpiece, Bagong Hari (The New King, 1986)). Standing on that catwalk in leather cladding, his hands hanging loosely at each side like a pair of power tools, De Mesa made me shudder (Can I suggest De Mesa as an anti-hero in a Ricketts-directed flick? Just hoping).

Rickett's most serious weakness is in scripting. We get a serial killer (De Mesa) who likes to break people's spines; we get a sex slavery ring thrown in for good measure. The two storylines could make a movie by themselves; together, they tend to detract and weaken each other. De Mesa is very good, but his serial killer isn't that much out of the ordinary--after the tableau killer in Se7en and mimic-killer in Copycat, you expect a little more. The sex slave ring also cries out for a twist or three--the revelation, for example, that Rickett's boss is actually heading the ring.

But what we do get is pretty interesting. The showdown between De Mesa and Ricketts features a deft mirror-maze sequence that recalls something of Enter The Dragon and even Orson Welles' Lady From Shanghai. Ricketts is fast on his feet, and has a filmmaker's eye; with more consistent editing, a more inspired script and somewhat bigger production budget, he might make a movie worth sending to film festivals abroad. He is one propulsive vehicle that shows every sign of taking off.

(Excerpt taken from Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine Cinema. Click here to order online.)


Anonymous said...

OMB needs HELP

Isa po akong empleyado sa OMB Nakakaawa na po kaming mga taga-OMB. Tuwing umaga ay hinihiling namin na sana ay hindi na lang dumating ang bagiong Chairman na si Ronnie Ricketts. Wala siyang tiwala sa mga taong nadatnan niya. Alam niyo po bang ang isa sa kaniyang mga isinakatuparang agenda ay ang linisin ang kaniyang dibisyon. Pinalipat niya ang dalawang dating assistant ni Chairman Manzano sa ibang dibisyon at ang isa naman ay tinanggal. Wala pa po siyang alam kung paano patakbuhin ang ahensiya ngunit puro pagpapahirap sa mga dating empleyado ang kaniyang ginagawa. lahat kami ay natatakot na matanggal din. Wala kaming magawang paraan.Hindi na namin alam kung saan pa po ito patungo at kung kakayanin pa namin.

Hindi namin inaakalang ganito ang kaniyang ugali sa personal. Sa tv akala mo ay sobrang disiplinado niya at makatao. Ngunit hindi. Wala siyang pakealam sa karapatan ng bawat indibidwal. ang nais lamang niya ay ang kapangyarihan.


Noel Vera said...

Not familiar with the situation mentioned above, so I can't verify the veracity of what's been written. If someone would like to either confirm or disprove it, I'd appreciate that.

Anonymous said...

I heard may nagfile ng civil case sa kanya sa QC RTC. I've read the files, it seems that Ricketts uses the HR of the OMB to terminate or demote employees and to replace them of his own people....tsk tsk tsk kawawa naman....

Noel Vera said...

Again, don't know the veracity of this statement. Am allowing the comment in the interest of openness and transparency. The poster does suggest that evidence can be found in the QC Regional Trial Court.

Anonymous said...

Hi! This is a normal reaction of people having a change of leadership in an agency. Naturally people will adjust to the new Chairman. There will be changes for sure, eh ano pang nilagay sya dyan kung hindi niya aayusin ang ahensya. OMB people, you should have pride in what you do from now on, and start to be honest. You are now being manned by a very principled and honest man. Put that in mind! Even on his birthday (Dec 3 2009), he spearheaded a very successful significant raid in Quiapo.

I have a hunch that people in OMB are just sourgraping since nahuhuli na yung mga racket nila ng present chairman... but that's another story.

Anyway, as for the civil case filed, this is funny since the complainant is not even qualified to work in the government. Pinasok lang ng OIC before. Nuisance case...

Talk to the Mr. Ricketts if you have grievances... He's always at the OMB office. Thank you!

Noel Vera said...

Both sides heard from, then.

Anonymous said...

The hard working OMB Chaiman: