Monday, December 26, 2016
Thursday, December 22, 2016
Thursday, December 15, 2016
Cops and robbers
David Mackenzie's Hell or High Water, from a script by Taylor Sheridan (Sicario) turns on a terrifically compelling premise: that brothers Toby and Tanner Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster respectively) are so financially threatened by the reverse mortgage loan lent them by a bank--the fictional Texas Midlands--for their recently deceased mother's treatment that they've taken to carefully robbing that same bank's smaller branches (teller's drawers only; no vaults, no bundles, no large bills) to repay the loan.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
Moana, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker is Disney's latest attempt at politically correct culturally sensitive storytelling. The results I'd say are better than anything the studio has ever done before, which if you know my history regarding all things Disney is saying something.
Thursday, December 01, 2016
Martial Law Movies
Rodrigo Duterte on former president Ferdinand Marcos (italics mine): "President Marcos was a president for so long and he was a soldier. So that’s about it. Whether or not he performed worse or better, there is no study, there is no movie about it. It’s just the challenges and allegations of the other side which [are] not enough"
For studies let me recommend a few titles: Ferdinand Marcos and the Philippines by Albert F. Celoza; The Marcos Dynasty by Sterling Seagrave; and The Conjugal Dictatorship, by Primitivo Mijares, who worked for Marcos, turned against him, disappeared shortly after the book was published.
In literature there's Lualhati Bautista's Dekada '70; Emmanuel Lacaba's Salvaged Prose and Salvaged Poems; and Ninotchka Rosca's State of War.
And more, much more; I'm only citing titles I'm familiar with.
As for movies--in ascending order, my incomplete unobjective totally off-the-cuff list of titles that do in fact deal with the Martial Law Era.
Thursday, November 17, 2016
(Now available on iTunes, with English subtitles)
I first saw Mario O'Hara's Tatlong Taong aong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God) in the 1996 Pelikula at Lipunan (Film and Society) festival two decades after its initial commercial run and was convinced it was the finest Filipino film ever made. Sitting down to watch the picture two decades later I have to approach carefully, gingerly, like with an old friend who has long since dropped out of sight: Has it lost its power? Has its edge dulled with familiarity and time? Does this World War 2 drama still speak to us--to me--with eloquence and force?
Friday, November 11, 2016
Scott Derrickson's new fantasy is the latest stone added to the intimidating wall that Marvel and Disney are presently constructing (in this case Marvel producing, Disney distributing) and as far as bricks go this one isn't too different: a bit quadrilateral, a little inert, a tad dense.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Nicholas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon provokes as many questions as it does responses: is it a horror thriller? An existential comedy? A condemnation of the LA fashion scene or a stylization and glamorization? Feminist or misogynist? Part fantasy or part sick fevered dream?
I say all of the above and none; if anything I'd call it a somewhat exaggerated contemporary documentary on modern-day Los Angeles, a timely rectal temperature reading if you like of the City of Angels, with the thermometer thickly smothered beforehand in a hallucinogenic lubricant.
Monday, October 31, 2016
Critics fault Mario Cornejo's Apocalypse Child for its formless almost motionless script, as if the premise (that Ford (Sid Lucero) is the bastard child of Francis Ford Coppola, conceived when the director was filming Apocalypse Now in Baler, Aurora Province), its development and resolution, were the raison d'etre for the film.
I disagree. In my book the premise is just an excuse for some lovely filmmaking, with a cast of attractive actors giving relaxed performances in one of the most beautiful seaside spots in the world.
Thursday, October 27, 2016
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Call Tim Burton's latest his idea of an X-Men movie--a group of super-powered mutants aliens whatever, this time children hiding from a hostile world.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
(The film will show at SM Davao Oct. 12 - 18, as part of the To Farm Film Festival)
Dennis Marasigan's Free Range is what might be called an advocacy film, or a film made with a specific agenda or cause in mind--in this case a production initiated and partially funded by the ToFarm Film Festival to showcase the Filipino farmer (the entries had a brief run in Manila before swinging through Pampanga, Cabanatuan, Cebu, to end in Davao).
Thursday, October 13, 2016
The Deepwater Horizon was a specially designed ship meant to prospect in waters five thousand feet deep and drill for oil. I'd read about them back in grade school (far too many years ago), and for a science project tried constructing a model. The principle was simple enough: build a platform with pontoons capable of floating, bolt said platform to the sea floor (actually the bottom of an aquarium tank). If the pontoons are watertight and the bolts secure the platform is stable--buoyancy kept the chains tight, anchoring the platform against wind and rolling waves. I remember assembling the model out of wood and plastic, with metal rods and black tape to simulate the drilling tower; unfortunately the tank I used leaked, and the project was never presented.
So: semi-submersible dynamically positioning rigs--and a movie about the most famous such rig in history, with big explosions thrown in? Color me interested.
Monday, October 03, 2016
Vengeance is mine
His second effort is a smaller film, focusing this time on a single woman rather than a broad swath of Philippine society, its milieu more recent (1997--Hong Kong had just been returned to China) rather than a crucial moment in the Philippines' past. But here again you sense that Diaz isn't just marking time--that he's shifted focus and approach from the mythical and broadly distantly historical to the personal and (somewhat) contemporary.
Yet another important shift is the source material: where Diaz's go-to writer has been Dostoevsky this time it's Tolstoy, using the basic premise of the latter's short story "God Sees the Truth, But Waits:" An innocent woman named Horacia Somorostro (Charo Santos) is accused of killing a woman and spends thirty years behind bars; when her best friend on the inside Petra (Sharmaine Centenera-Buencamino) confesses to committing the actual murder Horacia is unexpectedly released.
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Travis Knight's debut feature (and Laika Studios' fourth) Kubo and the Two Strings functions (as does most of the moviemaking outfit's projects) as welcome alternative to the Pixar/Disney school of animation--darker and not without horrors.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
Fifty years! Fifty years watching and re-watching and poring over the minutiae of this '60s show by TV veteran Gene Roddenberry that lasted at most three seasons (that third almost universally reviled) featuring low-budget effects, cardboard sets, green-dyed women. Broke some ground with a racially diverse cast, was mostly forgiven for the somewhat misogynistic treatment of women (Short-skirted uniforms anyone?), was generally considered the most intelligent science-fiction TV series of its time (if we forget Dr. Who and The Prisoner).
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Thursday, September 15, 2016
The Happiness of idiots, the dreamlife of angels
Tsai Ming-Liang’s The Hole is superb, worlds away from Ang Lee’s light, melancholic comedies; he’s closer to the heavygoing style of Edward Yang or Hou Hsiao-Hsien--slow pacing, deadpan acting, heavily philosophized filmmaking--yet somehow his film glows with the excitement of a bold and truly speculative imagination.
Sex in the new millennium
(an excerpt from an old article)
In David Cronenberg’s Crash sex takes on a radically different character altogether. The film--about a man named Jim Ballard (James Spader) who is involved in a car crash--is an encyclopedia of perversions involving car crashes and car-crash wounds and everything in between. Ballard makes love to the woman whose car he crashed into (having killed her husband in the process); he makes love inside the car he crashed in; he even makes love to the healed wound of a car-crash victim. Later, he meets others with the same obsessions and watches as they stage clandestine re-enactments of famous accidents (James Deans’ for example).
Friday, September 09, 2016
Walt Disney Studios in case you haven't noticed has been remaking its movies with mostly dire results. There was the live-action The Jungle Book (which digitally rendered India a uniform gruel gray); the live-action Malificent (which totally bypassed the splendor of the original--possibly the only Disney animated feature I really liked--in favor of a puny little girl-power parable) and I hear that Kenneth Brannagh did a live-action Cinderella (which I missed, thankfully; there's only so much punishment a critic can take).
The 1977 Pete's Dragon wasn't exactly a Disney classic come to life--it's not as funny as Jungle Book, does not feature cute rats like Cinderella, does not frighten you with a ten story high walking nightmare clad in clashing nightblack armor, bristling sable steel pikes a la Sleeping Beauty. There's room for improvement in the original, an entire apartment building's worth, tantalizingly promised by the opening sequence--man woman and child driving through forest road, reading a children's book (Elliot Gets Lost) and discussing adventure. "That's the other thing about adventures," declares Pete's dad; "you got to be brave." At which point of course the deer hits the fan.
Friday, September 02, 2016
Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster is his unique brand of bizarre deadpan humor translated into feature-length English. The premise is imaginative: in a faintly futuristic society single adults or freshly single adults are checked into a resort and given forty-five days to find a suitable mate; if they fail, they're turned into animals, literally, the only upside being they have a choice of which.
"--have you thought of what animal you'd like to be if you end up alone?" the protagonist David (Colin Farrell) is asked.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Quentin Tarantino's The Hateful Eight (released on DVD earlier this year) is reportedly his most middling production yet, with decent (not great) boxoffice numbers, with critics divided more than usual--some calling it "a high-wire thriller" and "quintessentially American," others declaring it "Tarantino's worse."
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Rest in peace, Lilia (1935 - 2016)
Who in the world was Lilia Cuntapay?
Possibly the most famous Filipino face you've never heard of, a minor actress who has appeared in forty films and television series to date (plus a few that the Internet Movie Database might have missed), and one of the more outre characters I've met on the fringes of the Filipino movie industry--never got her name completely right, but never forgot her, either. And she's the unlikely, bizarrely brave yet startlingly serene heroine of Antoinette Jadaone's 2011 feature debut mockumentary Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Thursday, August 18, 2016
(WARNING: story and narrative twists discussed in close detail)
Alan Moore's The Killing Joke is generally considered the classic Joker comic book, Sam Liu's animated adaptation generally considered a desecration of the same; the truth as ever (or at least as I see it) lies somewhere in between.
Monday, August 15, 2016
James Gunn is better known for mixing quirky humor with standard-issue superhero shenanigans in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). The movie (which for the record I liked) was actually watered-down Gunn for the PG crowd, a fairly risky move (A gun-toting raccoon? A walking tree with only one line?) that paid off handsomely to the tune of $770 million worldwide.
Super made four years earlier hews closer to authentic adult-dosage Gunn. Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) is a short-order cook and longtime loser who has experienced only two perfect moments in his life so far: his marriage to former junkie Sarah (Liv Tyler) and his helping a police officer catch a purse thief--both moments immortalized in colored-pencil drawings that he tapes to a wall. Sarah soon leaves him for Jacques (Kevin Bacon), a local strip club owner and mid-level dealer who lures her away with offers to renew and maintain her habit.
Frank is knocked into a downward spiral, weeping over his fry grill and making pathetic attempts to win Sarah back (for which efforts he's thoroughly beaten). Gunn documents Frank's descent in unflinching detail, including the pained reactions of people forced to deal with him (they keep him at arm's length, as if failure was contagious); when Frank hits rock bottom his roof and walls split open, his bedsheets twist round his arms holding them down tight, his skull is sliced open by tentacles wielding boxcutter blades and the Finger of God comes down from on high...
It's John Ford's The Searchers by way of Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver with a dash of Monty Python. What makes Gunn's version work is that Wilson is no John Wayne or Robert De Niro--he has neither Wayne's reassuring stoicism (Frank weeps, given sufficient provocation) nor De Niro's psychopath charm (women tend to look past him) but instead has a lumpenprole quality that makes one want to leap up in recognition: "One of us! One of us!" We imagine being in his shoes (they're practically our size) so when Frank is beaten or humiliated yet again--and Gunn doesn't stint on the beatings and humiliation--we identify with his pain in a way we don't with De Niro or Wayne.
Frank is compelled to pull on a cowl and swing a pipe wrench, though the forces driving him seem religious. That admittedly requires a leap of faith--can't think of two cultures (comicbook collecting and churchgoing) less likely to intermingle, though 1) there have been attempts to adapt The Bible into comics (Robert Crumb's Book of Genesis being one of the best) and 2) the loneliness of geeks does in some ways resemble the loneliness of religious extremists (was about to say there aren't any evangelical superhero TV shows till I remembered Preacher) and 3) Frank's visions seem less like spiritual revelations and more like desperate attempts to take images from TV (including the cheesy parody The Holy Avenger) and real life and stitch them together in a dream sequence that would make sense of his life.
Libby (Ellen Page) on the other hand is both a more convincing construct and obvious male fantasy--how many attractive female comic book geeks with overactive sex drives can there be out there anyway? Yet Libby talks acts thinks in a more familiar manner than Frank (despite being smoking hot): realizing who she's talking to she presents him with a proposition ("Batman had Robin; the original Human Torch had Toro") complete with name ("Boltie"), costume (yellow and green with cute short skirt), an awkwardly executed series of tumbles and rolls ("See what I'm getting at?" "No."). Going on her first adventure she's bored out of her mind ("You just sit here and wait for crime to happen?"); confronted with her first fight she goes berserk, smashing a car into the adversary's legs and jumping out half-naked (she was in the middle of changing) to spew obscene homophobic taunts.
The violence does more than release Libby's aggression; she offers sex to Frank, who promptly turns her down ("I'm married!"). Frank and Libby are a study in contrasts: where Frank is a romantic puritan who represses himself to the point that wearing a costume is the only way to vent his anger, Libby is an amoral free-floating hedonist seeking to direct her hostility--a direction only Frank has been able to provide. Libby plays Robin to Frank's Batman,* though Libby would've jumped Batman deep in their Batcave some time ago.
*(Not just any Robin and Batman but Frank Miller's Dynamic Duo ("Does this mean I'm not fired anymore?"), an indication of Miller's for better or worse lasting influence on the genre)
It's an interesting dynamic; Frank has been building up pressure all this time (like a swollen boil), some of that pressure relieved by becoming The Crimson Bolt (impressive name, till you realize a bolt is an inert hunk of metal used to hold objects together or keep people out--to maintain the status quo if you like). Frank's example unleashes the id in Libby who acts in turn as Frank's id--"What if we did this? What if we did that?" she keeps asking. To the problem of Frank's marriage she suggests wearing costumes during sex. "The Crimson Bolt's not married to Sarah--Frank is," she offers helpfully.
For the movie's look Gunn has hit on a non-style suggesting both cinema-verite and the kind of do-it-yourself videos amateurs post on YouTube all the time (if this were made some years later Gunn could've done exactly that). The look pays off with onscreen violence far more disturbing than anything found in Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass, released earlier the same year--where the violence in Vaughn's movie is extravagant even grotesque, the violence in Gunn's could be happening right now, down the street from where you're sitting, to people you might know. Gunn's has often been compared to Vaughn's which I don't buy for a minute: Vaughn doesn't touch costumed sex, doesn't cast unglamorous everyday faces (Wilson recalls a younger Garrison Keillor), doesn't skirt as daringly the borderline between comedy and horror.
Critics complain of the wildly varied tone; I'd say the film only really fails towards the end (skip the rest of the paragraph if you haven't seen the movie!) with the suggestion that some good came out of Frank's misadventures--the music is suddenly dreamier, the camerawork settles into a contemplative gaze, the film overall feels disappointingly gauzy, softheaded. Sarah's rescue demands the same sardonic treatment as the rest of the pic, only it turns out she's a true innocent, and the dullest character onscreen (Scorsese in Taxi Driver is at least able to suggest the last-minute rescue was an ironic coda). Instead of a much-needed slam against vigilantism (much needed today, particularly in our country) we have wishy-washy foot-shuffling, the "if you're willing to pay the price you can do whatever you want" kind of Faustian mantra Pixar and Disney like to push on defenseless children. Love the movie, but that ending is a disappointingly feeble squib.
First published in Businessworld 8.5.16
Tuesday, August 09, 2016
Friday, August 05, 2016
Mario O'Hara's follow-up project after his World War 2 epic Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976) and producer Armida Siguion-Reyna's follow-up production after her Gabriela Silang musical Dung-aw (Dirge, 1975) co-starring Mario Montenegro was this 1977 film: yet another period drama, this time set during the American Occupation, also starring Mr. Montenegro.
Call the film O'Hara's The Magnificent Ambersons: after his misunderstood yet radical debut feature and impressive sophomore effort (Tatlong Taong) the filmmaker must have felt the pressure to deliver an even more sumptuous third, with broader historical sweep and larger cast of characters. For once he had the resources--Armida spared no expenses throwing in a period-accurate car (a '24 Chrysler if I'm not mistaken), a sprawling hacienda complete with elaborately laced beds and furnishings and religious statuary, even an elaborate overhead contraption designed to fan the family's epic-sized dining-room table during hot midday lunches.
Wednesday, August 03, 2016
Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Weighed and Found Wanting, 1974) was a seminal work in contemporary Philippine cinema, one of the rare quality films of the '70s to enjoy commercial success; it also announced Lino Brocka, previously known as a skilled commercial director, as a major Filipino artist.
Monday, July 25, 2016
The past and the spurious
Trek is dead; long live Trek. Early in this latest movie Spock (Zachary Quinto playing the emo version) gazes at the picture of his dead alternate-universe self (the more equanimous Leonard Nimoy) and ponders mortality, the past, probably the future.
Friday, July 22, 2016
Refrains in a song
Lino Brocka's Dung-aw (Dirge, 1976), his musical adaptation of the life of Gabriela Silang is one of the less acclaimed and least seen of his films and possibly for a reason: Brocka doesn't quite have a knack for the genre. The drama swirls around this or that central figure and suddenly everyone pauses while the protagonist bursts into song; Armida Siguion-Reyna as firebrand revolutionary Gabriela Silang acquits herself well (even if you can tell she's lip-synching to a recording of her own voice) but the darkly handsome Mario Montenegro as her husband Diego (also using his own voice) can only manage a cautious warble (as he should). The result is certainly different but not the kind of inspiring historical re-enactment you (or Armida who also happens to be producer) probably had in mind.
That said Mario O'Hara's script for the film takes what little is known of Silang and fashions a brief (seventy-five minutes long) sketch of her life--her beginnings as a woman of some means (she married into wealth, married again when her first husband died), her support of second husband Diego's decision to join the British against the Spaniards in the hopes of establishing a free northern province of Ilocos, her eventual takeover of Diego's leadership role in the rebellion when he is assassinated.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Friday, July 08, 2016
Friday, July 01, 2016
Warning: plot of both The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Ordet discussed in close detail)
Maybe the funniest joke in Preston Sturges' classic comedy--about Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton wearing one of the most salacious monikers in all of cinema) who after a night of drunken partying with a band of soldiers finds herself pregnant--was that it got made in the first place, in 1944, under the supposedly watchful eyes of the Hays Office (and in fact they were watching: when the picture was being developed the Office approved of only ten of the script's pages).
Film critic James Agee managed to upstage (or top) the joke, though, with his appreciative quip: "the Hays Office has either been hypnotized into a liberality for which it should be thanked, or has been raped in its sleep."
I dearly love the film but do feel that both film and Agee's topper were topped in turn by the Office itself when it cautioned the filmmakers (sometime during script development) to depict the men as "normal, thoroughly fit American soldiers who have had an evening of clean fun."
Monday, June 27, 2016
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's Anomalisa (2015) was based on his 'sound play'--actors seated on an empty stage, reciting lines, with accompanying sound effects--and judging from what we hear the script is painfully clever, painfully funny. This adaptation into a stop-motion animated feature using 3D printed puppets, however, raises the story to a whole other level.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
And Pixar's sequelitis mania continues with this latest regurgitated raid on their back catalog, in a way an attempt to repair their reputation after the debacle that was The Good Dinosaur.
(Preceding the feature is the Pixar short Piper, a harrowing horror flick featuring the massed deaths of various bivalves, some gruesomely pulled apart)
Friday, June 17, 2016
Jerrold Tarog's Heneral Luna caps if you like the decades-plus quest of Filipino filmmakers to retell the Philippine Revolution and its direct aftermath the Philippine-American War, told in two distinct styles, from the more traditional Gone With the Wind-type epic storytelling (Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Jose Rizal, Mark Meily's El Presidente) to more eclectic independent efforts (Raymond Red's extended poems Bayani (Hero) and Sakay; Tikoy Aguiluz's cinema-verite Rizal sa Dapitan (Rizal in Dapitan); Mike de Leon's Magritte-ish essay film Bayaning Third World (Third World Hero); Mario O'Hara's speculative fantasy Sisa, and Dreyer-like courtroom drama Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (The Trial of Andres Bonifacio).
Tarog's film falls somewhere between, covering the last year or so of the life of General Antonio Luna (John Arcilla) while touching on that life's highlights: the Battle of Santo Tomas, where Luna charged the enemy and was shot off his horse; the Battle of Calumpit, where he waged a heated word war with the defiant General Tomas Mascardo (Lorenz Martinez); and the various political skirmishes Luna was forced to fight to present his strategies to his respected--if suspiciously distant--commander, President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado).
Tuesday, June 14, 2016
(Belatedly, for the Philippines' Independence Day, an old post)
(For Bonifacio's 150th birth anniversary, a brilliant no-budget digital film on his trial and ignoble death)
The pasyon of Andres
There are--and I could be perfectly wrong about this--about ten films made to date about Filipino national hero Jose Rizal, including Marilou Diaz Abaya's oversized, underpowered 150 million peso (US$3.0 million) historical epic. To date there have been--and again I can be wrong--only three films made on Filipino national hero Andres Bonifacio: Teodorico C. Santos' Andres Bonifacio (Ang Supremo) done in 1964, Raymond Red's beautiful, strangely haunting Bayani (1992), and this (edit: and at least two more, Richard Somes' 2012 Supremo, and Enzo Williams' 2014 Bonifacio, ang Unang Pangulo).
Mario O'Hara's Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio (The Trial of Andres Bonifacio, 2010) takes its cue from Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc in employing the actual trial records as a rough outline (a film treatment, if you like) and fashions out of them an analytical, self-reflexive examination not so much of the truth of what happened as of the meaning of what happened (O'Hara at first glance seems to accept the historical record--always written by victors, Emilio Aguinaldo's rival Magdalo faction in this case--as accurate).
Friday, June 10, 2016
Robert Eggers' debut feature The VVitch is suitably chaste and sensual--chaste in that it uses the absolute minimum in prosthetic (and digital) effects (thank god); sensual in that the whispery trees, the velvet night, the cracked bark of tree and coarse weave of cloth and unearthly aureole of moon have prominent place in the film's visual palette, to the point that the children's near-bloodless faces stand out in shocking contrast. You feel as if these young Puritans, their family freshly banished (for 'prideful conceit' apparently), are constantly mooning you with their pink milkfed cheeks; on the other hand the parents tend to blend into their surroundings--all dried timber and weathered stone, no pink or milk in them at all.