Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cinemanila 2010 (Dec. 1 to 5, at Robinsons Movieworld)

Schedule is as follows:

DECEMBER 1 - Wednesday

Cinema A (35mm) Jury & Press Screenings
12:00  Fourth Portrait | Chung Mong-Hong (Taiwan, 2009)
  *Available to Gold Pass holders only
2:05 And Peace On Earth | Matteo Botrugno & Daniele Coluccini (Italy, 2010) Jury Screening, Tickets Open to the Public 
3:55 Sketches of Kaitan City | Kazuyoshi Kumakiri 
(Japan, 2010) Jury Screening, Tickets Open to the Public
6:45 Thirst | Park Chan Wook (South Korea, 2009)
9:15 Camellia | Joon-Hwan Jang, Wisit Sasanatieng & Isao Yukisada (South Korea / Thailand / Japan, 2010)

Cinema B (Digital & 35mm) Jury & Press Screenings
12:00  Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria | Remton Siega Zuasola (Philippines, 2010)
Jury Screening, Tickets Open to the Public
2:00 Passerby # 3 | Shin Su-won (South Korea, 2009)
3:45 Au Revoir, Taipei | Arvin Chen (USA / Taiwan, 2010) Jury Screening, Tickets Open to the Public
5:30 Breathless | Yang Ik-Joon (South Korea, 2009)
8:00 Reign of Assasins | Chao-bin Su, John Woo (China, 2010)

CINEMA 1 Opening Film
8:00 Pinoy Sunday | Wi Ding Ho  (Taiwan / Philippines, 2010)

DECEMBER 2 - Thursday

Cinema A (35mm)
12:00  Camellia | Joon-Hwan Jang, Wisit Sasanatieng &  Isao Yukisada (South Korea / Thailand / Japan, 2010)
2:00 Mother | Bong Joon-ho (South Korea, 2009)
4:30 The Sandwich Man | Hou Hsiao Hsien, Wan Jen &  Zhuang Xiang Zeng (Taiwan, 1983) 
*Available to Gold Pass holders only
6:30 Pinoy Sunday | Wi Ding Ho  (Taiwan / 
Philippines, 2010) (Intro, Q&A w/ director)
*Available to Gold Pass holders only
8:30 Secret Sunshine | Lee Chang-dong  (South Korea, 2007)

Cinema B (Digital & 35mm)
12:00  Pila Balde | Jeffrey Jeturian (Philippines, 1999)
1:55 Ang Ninanais | John Torres (Philippines, 2010)
4:15 Halaw | Sheron Dayoc (Philippines, 2010) 
6:00 Ang Panagtagbo sa Akong mga Apohan | Malaya Camporedondo (Philippines, 2010) + Eskrimadors |  Kerwin Go (Philippines, 2010)
8:15 Chassis | Adolf Alix Jr. (Philippines, 2010) (Intro Q&A)
10:00  And Peace On Earth | Matteo Botrugno & Daniele Coluccini (Italy, 2010)

7:00 Philippine Premiere: Return to Manila: Filipino Cinema | Hubert Niogret (France / Philippines, 2010) 
AFM Screening room, co-hosted by Alliance Francaise

DECEMBER 3 - Friday

Cinema A (35mm)
12:00 Sunday Morning in Victoria Park | Lola Amaria (Indonesia, 2010) 
2:00 Taipei Exchanges | Hsiao Ya-chuan (Taiwan, 2010) 
*Available to Gold Pass holders only
3:45 Au Revoir, Taipei | Arvin Chen (USA / Taiwan, 2010)
5:20 Sketches of Kaitan City | Kazuyoshi Kumakiri (Japan, 2010) 
8:15  The Housemaid | Im Sang-soo (South Korea, 2010) (Intro and Q&A with director)
10:30 Eastern Plays | Kamen Kalev (Bulgaria / Sweden, 2009) (89 mins)

Cinema B (Digital & 35mm)
12:00  Diujung Jalan (The Road)  | Tony Trimarsanto (Indonesia, 2010)
1:30 Dekasegi  (The Migrants) | Rey Ventura (Director present) + Sunday School  | Joanna V. Arong (Philippines / China / Zambia, 2010)  (Director present)
4:00 Balangay | Sherad Anthony Sanchez and Robin Färdig (Philippines/Sweden, 2010) (Intro and Q&A)
6:00 ‘Di Natatapos Ang Gabi (The Night Infinite)  | Ato Bautista (Philippines, 2010) (Intro and Q&A)
8:00 Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World | Edgar Wright (USA / UK/ Canada, 2010) 
10:10 Primary! | Ivan Noel (Spain, 2010)

DECEMBER 4 - Saturday

Cinema A (35 mm)
12:00  Floating Lives | Nguyen Panh Quang Binh  (Vietnam, 2010)
2:10 The Piano in a Factory | Zhang Meng, Jae-young Kwak (China, 2010) 
4:35 The Door | Anno Saul (Germany, 2010)
6:00 The Housemaid | Im Sang-soo (South Korea, 2010)
8:05 Juliets | Yu-Hsun Chen, Hou Ji-Ran & Ko-shang Shen  (Taiwan, 2010) *Available to Gold Pass holders only
10:05  Thirst | Park Chan Wook (South Korea, 2009) 

Cinema B (Digital & 35mm)
11:30  Seminar: 3D Animation, featuring team behind RPG Metanoia | Luis Suarez (Philippines, 2010)
2:00 HIV (Si Heidi, Si Ivy at Si V) | Neal “Buboy” Tan (Philippines, 2010) (Q&A, Intro)
4:00 Kano | Monster Jimenez (Philippines / USA, 2010) 
6:05 Young Cinema Night: Shorts in Competition
7:30 The People I’ve Slept With | Quentin Lee (USA, 2009)
9:15 Animal Town | Kyu-hwan Jeon (South Korea / USA, 2009)

7:00 Young Cinema Night: Shorts in Exhibitition
Cinemanila Awarding Ceremony

DECEMBER 5 - Sunday

Cinema A (35 mm)
12:00  Beyond the Circle | Golam Rabbany Biplob (Bangladesh, 2009)
1:45 Red Eagle | Wisit Sasanatieng (Thailand, 2010) (Lead actor, Ananda Everingham, present for intro and Q&A)
4:15 The Cove | Louie Psihoyos (USA, 2009) 
6:15 Floating Lives | Nguyen Panh Quang Binh (Vietnam, 2010) 
8:30 Eastern Plays | Kamen Kalev (Bulgaria / Sweden, 2009)

Cinema B (Digital & 35mm)
12:00  Bontoc Eulogy | Marlon Fuentes  (USA / Philippines, 1995) + Fall of the I-Hotel | Curtis Choy (USA, 1983)
2:15 Inhalation | Edmund Yeo (Malaysia, 2010) (director present) (17 mins) + The Tiger Factory |  Woo Ming Jin (Japan / Malaysia, 2010) (producer present, intro and Q&A)
4:30 Happyland | Jim Libiran (Philippines, 2010) World Premiere
7:00 Machete Maidens Unleashed | Mark Hartley (Australia, 2010)
8:45 A Prophet | Jacques Audiard (France / Italy, 2009) 

Cinema 1:  Closing Film 
8:00 Amigo | John Sayles (USA, 2010) 


DECEMBER 6 - Monday

Cinema A (35 mm)
12:00  Kaleldo | Brillante Mendoza (Philippines, 2006)
1:45 Red Eagle | Wisit Sasanatieng (Thailand, 2010) 
4:15 Breathless | Yang Ik-Joon (South Korea, 2010)
7:00 Reign of Assasins | Chao-bin Su, John Woo (China, 2010)
9:30 Mother | Bong Joon-ho (South Korea, 2009)

Cinema B (Digital & 35mm)
12:00  Layang Bilanggo | Michael Dagnalan  (Philippines, 2010)
2:00 Limbunan | Teng Mangansakan (Philippines, 2010) 
4:00 Please Don’t Disturb | Moshen Abdolvahab  (Iran, 2010)
5:40 Memories of A Burning Tree | Sherman Ong  (Tanzania / Netherlands / Singapore / Malaysia, 2010)
7:20 Thorn in the Heart | Michel Gondry (France, 2009)
9:15 A Prophet | Jacques Audiard (France / Italy, 2009) 

DECEMBER 7 - Tuesday

Cinema A (35 mm)
12:00  Pila Balde | Jeffrey Jeturian (Philippines, 1999)
1:50 Riding The Stallion of The Dream | Girish Kasaravali (India, 2010)
3:50 Machete Maidens Unleashed | Mark Hartley (Australia, 2010)
5:30 The Cove | Louie Psihoyos (USA, 2009) 
7:25 The Piano in a Factory | Zhang Meng, Jae-young Kwak (China, 2010) (124 mins)
9:10 Secret Sunshine | Lee Chang-dong (South Korea, 2007)

Cinema B (Digital & 35mm)
12:00  Red Dragonflies | Liao Jiekai (Singapore, 2010)
2:00 Father is a Dog | Lee Sang Woo (South Korea, 2010)
4:00 Year Without A Summer | Tan Chui Mui (Malaysia, 2010)
5:45 Kano | Monster Jimenez (Philippines / USA, 2010) 
7:30 Directors in Focus: 10 Years of Ishmael Bernal (Cinemanila Awardees for Most Outstanding Young  Filipino Filmmaker) (200 mins)


5:00  Mondomanila | Khavn dela Cruz (Philippines, 2010)
7:00  Mondomanila | Khavn dela Cruz (Philippines, 2010)


Surprise Screening


Brod | Ray Gibraltar (Philippines, 2010)
Endo | Jade Castro (Philippines, 2007) Critics’ Picks (Phil Dy)
Wanted: Border | Ray Gibraltar (Philippines, 2009) Critics’ Picks (Oggs Cruz)
Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Bato | Mes de Guzman  (Philippines, 2010) Critics’ Picks (Rolando Tolentino)
Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria | Remton Siega Zuasola (Philippines, 2010) Critics’ Picks (Richard Bolisay)
Sheika | Arnel Mardoquio (Philippines, 2010) Critics’ Picks (Nonoy Lauzon)

Note:  Schedule subject to change without prior notice. Customs, censors,  clearance delays or other unforseen circumstances may affect the screening times.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (David Yates); Unstoppable (Tony Scott); Fair Game (Doug Liman); Giallo (Dario Argento)

Ralph Fiennes, nostrils flaring as he plays He Who Shall Not Be Sniffed At

Deadly boring

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be the seventh Potter movie I've seen, and the sixth I've pretty much had to tolerate, checking my watch and trying to guess when this endless marathon of a movie would end.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mary and Max (Adam Elliot, 2009)

Happy together

Adam Elliot's Mary and Max (2009) is, along with Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey's Secret of Kells (same year) arguably the best English-language animated feature I've seen in years--in several years. And yes, I've seen that latest Pixar movie, the third one about the talking toys.

A huge part of the film's appeal is that it's so relentlessly retro. The film is stop-motion animation and unlike other animators who resort to CGI to render their effects, Elliot sticks to stop-motion all the way--flames leap and dance by crinkling red cellophane; a rainstorm pours down by agitating fishing wire; a toilet flushes by photographing KY Jelly spiraling down its drain. Cityscapes are not 3-D digital constructs; they are elaborate models, extending from one side of the screen to another. Every object has been especially built, down to the fully functional Underwood typewriter that took nine weeks to design and build (A typewriter! Remember those fossilized creatures?). Sensibilities are remarkably retro too--the two (Mary from Melbourne and Max from New York) live at a time before email was even possible, and correspond through the traditional written letter; they wait for days (at one point, even months) for the other's reply, creating a suspense we don't really experience anymore, not in this age of chat forums and instant messaging and Twitter. Plus, there is this idea--old-fashioned, possibly dangerous, entirely unwholesome and definitely inappropriate for children (thank goodness): that watching animation can be an adult activity, focusing on adult manners, even when children are involved in the story.

Maybe the film's most remarkable quality is this: though Elliot is Australian, grew up in Australia, and remains based there, it's the New York sequences that are the most vividly realized. Elliot cuts to a long shot of the city and you want to drink in all the densely textured skyscrapers, especially the Chrysler building with its outstretched eagle heads (every time the film cuts to New York I keep looking for those marvelous eagle heads). Everything, every detail seems of the city, and not just of the city, of a specific period in the city's life, from the cat with the missing eye to the air-conditioner that falls out of its moorings to the half-blind neighbor with the gigantic spectacles, to all the prepackaged versions of traditional kosher food (I couldn't find the exact labels, but I could find similar examples in the frozen section of my local supermarket).

And Max--you could imagine Philip Roth or Bernard Malamud creating him (as a matter of fact he's based on someone Elliot corresponded with for twenty years). As voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman, he's a remarkably truthful character, as accurate a portrait of Asperger's Syndrome as you can find on the big screen, down to the anal-retentive obsessiveness with details and the little booklet of facial expressions (to help Max identify what emotion a specific facial expression is supposed to express). More, he's unrepentantly true to himself--when at one point he has a stroke of good fortune and finally has the means to fulfill all of his and Mary's fantasies, he doesn't follow the feel-good formula and give us what we expect of him--he just goes along his stubborn path, in his ingrown, introverted way.

And it isn't as if Mary (voiced by Bethany Whitmore as a child, Toni Collette as an adult) were your run-of-the-mill protagonist--she's cute at first, but somewhere along the line she betrays the onset of a burgeoning sexuality, to which Max reacts by having an anxiety attack (he stands in a corner stool and sways back and forth, his pants cords swinging like a light bulb on a wire). Mary has needs, and they're messy needs, more than Max can handle; to Mary's credit, when it's Max turn to make demands Mary performs the needed sacrifice, no matter what the cost, and in this film when something costs the price is more than just an arm or a leg--it's deep depression, possible alcoholism, even the destruction of a marriage.

Isn't exactly your average Pixar movie, or Pixar's idea of a poignant movie. The first ten minutes of, say, Up (2009) is oft cited when listing the multi-billion-dollar-grossing studio's achievements, but that is a saccharine attempt at poignancy, one that pulls back the moment the viewers feel the slightest twinge of pain. Elliot does not pull back, not in the bite of his sarcasm, not in the emotional force of his images. He follows each character to their respective bittersweet fates with an unrelenting focus that can be exhausting, if it wasn't so mordantly funny--fact of the matter is, there's something autistic about his unflinching manner of storytelling (a reviewer called the film "heartwarming," which in my book would be accurate only if you think of a piece of cardiac muscle being grilled over coals). If I find this film more visually distinctive, more texturally fascinating (every object handcrafted, visibly shaped by human fingers), more laugh-out-loud funny, more emotionally complex, more--and this above all else--honest than anything Pixar has ever done, I beg your pardon; that's how I feel about the matter. Highly, highly recommended. 

first published in Businessworld 11.25.10

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let Me In (Matt Reeves, 2010)

(Lina Leandersson as Eli--accept no substitutes)

Does not suck

Matt Reeves' Let Me In (2010), his remake of Tomas Alfredson's remarkable Lat den ratte komma in (Let the Right One In, 2008) doesn't push its gore effects in your face; keeps most of the digital effects in the realm of the plausible (or at least halfway acceptable); finds a voice distinct from the original while still being recognizably from that original--not necessarily a good thing, but at least intentions are honorable. In other words, director Reeves (for whom this was a sophomore effort, after the fairly interesting monster-mockumentary (monstermentary?) movie Cloverfield (2008)) is obviously not out to cash in on a much-admired cult hit--he felt he had something to bring to the party, so he did it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Little Norse Prince (Isao Takahata, 1968)

(In memory of the late Isao Takahata 1935 - 2018) 

Not a Pixar pic

Isao Takahata's very first animated feature Taiyou no ouji Horusu no daibouken (Little Norse Prince, 1968) is I would say a masterpiece--a real achievement, considering that Toei had intended to do yet another of its quickie kiddie features, and interfered with production almost continuously (the script was reportedly based on an Ainu legend, which Toei insisted should be transposed to Norway to exploit the popularity of European mythology (confusing, especially if you happen to be Danish)). The studio was unhappy with the finished product, refused to provide the money to finish animating two major action sequences (you see them here in a series of stills), cut out half an hour from the running time, ran the resulting mess in commercial theaters for only ten days before pulling it out, despite glowing reviews from critics. Needless to say, Takahata was demoted, and never allowed to direct another picture in Toei again.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Girl who Played with Fire (Daniel Alfredson, 2009)

Golden girl

Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy--three novels, featuring the memorable leather-clad, bike-riding, computer-hacking Lisbeth Salander--are a worldwide phenomenon, having sold forty million copies to date; the film adaptation of the first book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, was made for a mere thirteen million dollars, and has to date earned over a hundred million worldwide (the sequel was made for four million, and grossed sixty-five million worldwide).

One can see the appeal. Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) is the angry young punk who uses her brains and on occasion her taser (she also swings a mean golf club and ax when necessary) on the various Swedish authority figures that have abused her in the past; magazine journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is her front man (he does the interviews and makes the phone calls) and Boy Friday, and at least in Dragon Tattoo is the functioning Dude in Distress depending on Lisbeth to swoop in at the last minute and save the day.

I like a lot of it; I like it that Larsson is an outspoken feminist, having had a personal traumatic experience in his youth (at fourteen he'd been witnessed to a gang rape he failed to stop, of a girl named Lisbeth), and in his heroine he's created a kind of avenging angle complete with nose ring, laptop, and in one fist a few hundred thousand volts of crackling electric arc. Niels Arden Oplev, who previously directed dramas, seems mostly interested in serving the emotional intensity of the material; he tells the story mainly through the coolly intellectual Blomkvist's eyes, and for the picture's tone takes his cue from the journalist's professionally objective manner (Blomkvist doesn't even seem all that upset when he's jailed for three months--from his expression you would have thought he had won a Mediterranean cruise vacation). All the better then, when that gaze falls on Lisbeth, as lithe and vivid and oversized a presence as the dragon tattooed to her back. Rapace is not conventionally pretty, but she has an intense reptilian look (glare is more like it) that seems to challenge anyone and everyone it meets; more, as she plays Lisbeth (and as Oplev directs her) she has a physical quickwittedness that makes one sit up in one's theater seat. "This girl will go places," you think as you feel your eyebrows climb up your forehead, "if she lives long enough."

She could be better served by the narrative. My biggest problem with Dragon Tattoo is the brokeback structure, with perhaps the most momentous sequence in the picture coming too early: Lisbeth has acquired a new probationary guardian named Bjurman (Paul Andersson), who turns out to be a sadist with designs on the wary Lisbeth. Their scenes together--Bjurman with Lisbeth and Lisbeth's vigorous reply--are clearly the film's centerpiece, and possibly the reason why many of the people agreed to do this project. I say: well and good, and hooray for the strong and unglamorous depiction of sexual assault, but in storytelling terms it pulls the reader's attention away from the thrust of the main narrative when a minor character is this despicable. When Lisbeth and Blomkvist finally face the real bad guy (an ex-Nazi, as it turns out, with a longstanding career in sexual sadism), you feel that the picture has already fired most of its dramatic ammo; this confrontation can only come across as something of an anticlimax.

The Girl Who Played With Fire, this time directed by Daniel Alfredson (he was second unit director for Dragon Tattoo, though he had also directed a few features previously), corrects this by coming up with a singular villain, one more worthy of Lisbeth. The mysterious Zala--a former GRU operative who fled to Sweden from Russia after killing a man--has engineered the death of two reporters investigating sex trafficking in the country, the project being spearheaded by Blomkvist's Millennium Magazine (and which Lisbeth, watching quietly from her all-seeing laptop, secretly approves of and supports). Right from the start Blomkvist and Lisbeth are collaborating (if only indirectly, through the internet); right from the start the pair are faced with an opponent that isn't confined to a soundproofed basement, waiting for them to root him out, but an active intelligence with a network of information and resources. Acting as Zala's manservant and foot soldier is a giant named Niedermann (Mikael Spreitz) who has boxer's training, blonde hair, and a touch of congenital analgesia (he's basically impervious to pain). To complicate matters for Lisbeth, included among the corpses is the body of her old friend Bjurman, her lawyer and probationary guardian; she has just become suspect number one in his murder.

Alfredson isn't necessarily a superior filmmaker compared to Oplev. The action sequences aren't particularly memorable (neither are Oplev's, actually) but they do avoid the cliché of handheld shaky-cams and chop-suey editing; especially good is one fight sequence, where the giant squares off with a championship boxer named Paolo (Paolo Roberto). Alfredson gives us a good sense of their differing fighting styles, how the giant is slower yet still dangerous, and how the boxer is faster, more skilled, yet hugely outmatched.

If Larsson meant to condemn man's cruelty to women, I'd say he does a better if less visceral job in Played with Fire--Zala is a far more formidable foe, and when confronted with Lisbeth their undisguised contempt for each other is just about peerless. If we're talking of institutional authorities, of abusive patriarchs, of men who symbolize ruthless power and unflinching abuse of women--a former Nazi and serial killer (as was found in Dragon Tattoo) may seem ugly and grotesque, but he's basically an isolated case, with few widespread consequences. A professional still involved and functioning and in some ways actually serving society--now that's a whole other proposition. The symbolic baggage sitting on Zala's head has a heft and weight not dissimilar to that of a figure in Greek Tragedy. He is an archetype looming over our heroine, watching her every move with baleful malevolence.

First published in Businessworld, 11.4.10

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010)

Connect the dots

David Fincher's The Social Network (2010) is based on a clever script by Aaron Sorkin which is based, in turn, on what is said to be a factually unreliable book by Ben Mezrich (The Accidental Billionaires) which is based (loosely or accurately, depending on who you talk to) on the life of the world's youngest billionaire, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.