Friday, October 30, 2015

Black Mass (Scott Cooper)

Earl Grey

Scott Cooper's Black Mass is working on terrific material: the rise and fall of one James "Whitey" Bulger, who terrorized Boston in the Eighties and early Nineties. As played by Johnny Depp in thick makeup Whitey is a ghoul, a walking dead with lifeless fish eyes, a rotted tooth, a freckled sharkskin forehead that stretches almost to the back of his skull. He whispers in his most gravelly Don Corrado Prizzi voice, glowers his most intense Michael Corleone glare and we can believe he's the head of a gang: only a mob boss can look like that and not get laughed off the street for trying too hard.

Altar (Rico Ilarde, 2007)

Human sacrifice

Rico Maria Ilarde's an odd creature of a filmmaker. From Z-Man (1988), his comic-book no-budget independent-action-flick take on Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, to Dugo ng Birhen (Blood of the Virgin, 1999), his fantasy throwdown between zombies and Taekwondo champion Monsour del Rosario, to Babaing Putik (Woman of Mud, 2000), his unholy mutant union between Brian de Palma's Carrie and John McTiernan's Predator, to Sa Ilalim ng Cogon (Under the Cogon Grass, 2005), his lyrically spare reinterpretation of H.G. Wells' classic novel The Island of Dr. Moreau (grass; silence; monster), Ilarde (son of Filipino radio and TV personality Eddie Ilarde) mixes and matches genres and movies till the films feel as disorienting (and disoriented) as he himself must at times feel, his narrative spinning and hurtling in many directions at once.

Gerardo de Leon: Two vampire films

For Halloween, two classic Filipino horrors:

Pair of Living Dead

On Gerardo De Leon's Kulay Dugo ang Gabi (aka The Blood Drinkers) and Ibulong Mo sa Hangin (aka Blood of the Vampires)

As noted by Mark Holcomb in his Senses of Cinema article; the Gerardo De Leon known to us today had two faces: as director of some of Philippine cinema's greatest films (El Filibusterismo (The Heretic, 1962), The Moises Padilla Story (1961), Daigdig ng Mga Api (The World of the Oppressed, 1965)) and as director of a handful of fine B-pictures (Terror is a Man (1959), Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968)). In 1964 and 1966 respectively, De Leon made two films: Kulay Dugo ang Gabi (Blood is the Color of Night) and Ibulong Mo sa Hangin (Whisper to the Wind).*

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg), Crimson Peak (Guillermo del Toro)

When worlds collide

Steven Spielberg's latest Bridge of Spies is ostensibly about the Soviet Union and America collaborating, two distinct if mistrustful sensibilities joining tentative hands on an unlikely venture. What it's really about in my book is Spielberg and the Coens collaborating--two distinct if mistrustful sensibilities joining tentative hands on an unlikely venture.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman)

In belated tribute to one of the greatest of filmmakers, who died this month

Women in cages

The late 
Chantal Akerman's best-known work and popularly acknowledged masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is the character study of a creature in her native habitat, the apartment over which she presides and maintains and operates with almost surgical precision.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Ma saison preferee" (My Favorite Season, Andre Techine, 1993), "Van Gogh" (Maurice PIalat, 1991)

(For her birthday)

Fire and ice 

(the French Film Festival, part 2)

I haven't seen enough of critic-turned-filmmaker Andre Techine's films as I would like, but Ma saison preferee (My Favorite Season, 1993) is easily my favorite. The novelistic, episodic texture of his films, the deceptively simple camerawork, the prominent place of nature or the outdoors (for a sensibility so dark and melancholic, there's a surprising amount of sunshine in his films), all are present in this feature, in a nicely balanced dynamic.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Book of Life (Jorge Gutierrez, 2014)

Flores para los muertos

In the flurry of lame gags, British pop songs and overbusy digital animation stampeding across the big screen, the question pops into your mind: where's Guillermo del Toro? The man's the perfect choice to handle this, the Mexican holiday Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, when family and friends not so much mourn the loss of loved ones as celebrate their memory. His films show the right mix of Gothic morbidity and childlike fabulism to present this most unsettling of public holidays properly, as a fascinating central facet of Latino culture--which presumably is what the filmmakers intended all along. 

Friday, October 09, 2015

Straight Outta Compton (F. Gary Gray)

Straight time

F. Gary Gray's Straight Outta Compton starts out strong, with Eazy E. (Jason Mitchell) attempting a transaction in a horrorshow crackhouse complete with shotgun-wielding gang moll and a police tank (captured by helicopter-mounted camera flying overhead in a tremendous WTF moment) literally crashing the party. 

Monday, October 05, 2015

The Martian (Ridley Scott)


I'd written about the source novel before, my basic verdict (if you don't like clicking on links or reading articles) being: fun and funny, excellent science and tech (grasp of human psychology not as good), rather unevocative, been done before only better.

Ridley Scott's movie gets this much right: jettisons Weir's clunky DOA prose in favor of photorealistic images of Mars (actually the Wadi Rum in Jordan, encarmined via filters), a series of vast landscapes surrounding a tiny lost spacesuited figure, John Ford-style.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Ricki and the Flash (Jonathan Demme, 2015

Flash in a pan

Not a big fan of dramatic Meryl Streep--all that technical perfection, the precision, the rather chilly Nordic beauty serving up some of the most passionate dramas in recent Hollywood (Sophie's Choice, The French Lieutenant's Woman) left me, well, cold. 

Liked Streep best in Fred Schepisi's A Cry in the Dark where her character--a Seventh Day Adventist--alienated not just the audience but almost everyone in Australian society. Streep in a severe Joan of Arc 'do cast impassive eyes over the courtroom audience--slightly more irritated eyes at the television camera--and the disapproving response is almost palpable (The public seems to be punishing her less for killing her child than for refusing to give them the heartrending family melodrama they crave). You're disturbed by the indictment of media and public opinion; you're--yes--moved by the sight of this emotionally stunted woman struggling to hold on to her sense of self when everyone else clearly wanted her to let go.

Strangely enough her flaws--the perfection, the precision, the chill beauty--become virtues in her comedies. In She Devil she's the bright point in an otherwise dull film; in Postcards from the Edge she's funny and sings, an irresistible combination (she has a fine voice, and early in her life took opera lessons from vocal coach Estelle Liebling). In Death Becomes Her she's Hollywood star Madeline Ashton, who avoids being upstaged in the midst of Robert Zemeckis'  metaphysical dark comedy about mortality by being larger-than-life, by unleashing emotions and insecurities and punchlines on the same demented scale as the digital buffoonery ("wrinkle wrinkle little star, hope they never see the scars")