Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Peppermint Candy (Lee Chang Dong, 1999)

Backed into the future

Lee Chang-dong's emotional powerhouse of a sophomore feature Peppermint Candy (1999) is perhaps his most structurally inventive, starting with a man's suicide going backwards--an idea possibly borrowed from Harold Pinter's play and later film Betrayal, and executed contemporaneously alongside Christopher Nolan's Memento

What distinguishes Lee's film from Nolan's (aside from looking and feeling as far from Westernized neo-noir as a film can get, with its deceptively simple camerawork and bright Rohmerlike sunlight) is the former's deft interweaving of South Korean politico-economic history, from 1980 to 1999, with the life of one Kim Yong-ho (Sol Kyung-gu). A few days before (we learn) Kim lost his business due to an embezzling business partner, lost most of his money due to a stock market crash (The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis) the rest to a loanshark, lost his wife and child because--but I get ahead of myself. 

Films like these you know the first question that comes to mind: is the structure justified? Is the backwards time scheme just a gimmick to draw the audience's attention or a crucial tactic for presenting the film's main theme? For the first half hour you're not quite sure: we first find Kim lying on a pebbled riverside, blinking at the harsh sun. He walks into a riverside picnic and you get the sense the man is staggering drunk--he blinks uncomprehendingly even when they recognize him, shrieks words into an offered karaoke mike ("What should I do? You left so suddenly! What should I do? I can't live without you! Do you have a secret no one knew? You were so tender! Na-na-na-na! Na-na-na! Na-na-na-na!"). He walks onto the nearby railroad bridge, which worries the picnickers, one of whom pleads for him to get down. Then the train blows its whistle.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Hindi Nahahati ang Langit (The Heavens Indivisible, Mike de Leon, 1985)

For Mike de Leon's birthday, an old post:

Part of the 10th Cinema One Originals Festival:

Sibling rivalry

Easy to say Hindi Nahahati ang Langit (rough translation, The Heavens Indivisible, 1985) is an anomaly in Mike De Leon's filmography. Compared to his other works it's relatively lighthearted in tone; it's from a less-than-prestigious source (a komiks novel written by Nerissa Cabral, serialized in Tagalog Klasiks); and--wonders of wonders--it made money at the boxoffice

But think about it: komiks is actually a popular fount for film ideas--Ishmael Bernal did at least two I can recall (Zoom, Zoom Superman! and Tisoy); Lino Brocka started his career with an adaptation (Wanted: Perfect Mother), followed by a slew of other titles (Tubog sa Ginto (Dipped in Gold), Cadena de Amor (Chain of Love), all three written by the inimitable Mars Ravelo); one of Gerardo de Leon's most famous films was about a mermaid (Dyesebel, also by Ravelo). Far from being an unusual choice you might say De Leon (Mike, not Gerardo) was following in a tried-and-true tradition. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Captain America: Civil War (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo), The Jungle Book (Jon Favreau)

A feeble War

Calling brothers Anthony and Joe Russo's Captain America: Civil War the best superhero movie to date is I feel a bit much. It limps along more nimbly than the rest of Marvel's profit-animated undead, is a huge improvement over such joyless efforts as the Thor or Wolverine movies, is a quantum leap in quality over Snyder's multimilliondollar super-powered cowflop--but saying all that is like saying you didn't feel like flinging your 32 oz. soda at the screen and bashing your head repeatedly on the theater's concrete floor; we're talking extremely low bar here. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes)

Saul surfer

Lazlo Nemes' extraordinarily shot and executed debut feature Son of Saul (Saul fia, 2015) answers a question I (and a few other folks) have been wondering about for some time: is there a new, fresh, perhaps even galvanizing way to realize the story of the Holocaust on the big screen?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Paradise Inn (Celso Ad. Castillo)

The house on the hill

Call Celso Ad. Castillo's Paradise Inn his inversion (perversion if you like) of Lino Brocka's classic Insiang--mother and daughter locked in life-or-death rivalry, only instead of a Manila slum they live in the eponymously named establishment, a nightclub / dive bar / strip joint perched on top of a hill.

Where Insiang and her mother are lost among the teeming thousands jostling for space in urban Manila, Ester Paraiso (Lolita Rodriguez) and her daughter Daria (Vivan Velez) stand exposed on all sides; where Brocka plays up the claustrophobia in Tondo's teeming slums, Castillo (filming amongst the hills of Batangas) emphasizes the sense of helplessness, of agoraphobia

Never one to shy away from symbolism Castillo thoroughly milks the stripper metaphor. The two women are constant objects of voyeurism, are closely observed literally and figuratively: they are envied for their money (the modest but consistent income they earn from property and business), their influence (Ester's lover is Vice Mayor Anton (Robert Arevalo) who prefers sleeping at Ester's over his own home--the link between prostitution and politics made hilariously literal), Daria's youth and beauty. Some would like to pull them off their high hilltop; others offer money or favors in exchange for a kiss a dance a night's romance...

Friday, May 06, 2016

The Spiral Staircase (Robert Siodmak)

Twisted Sister

 Robert Siodmak's The Spiral Staircase, an oddly neglected noir, begins with an act of shared voyeurism: people gathered at a hotel's darkened dance hall to watch the latest of novelties, a motion picture (D.W. Griffith's 1912 silent The Sands of Dee, doubling as William Heise's 1896 The Kiss*). Siodmak's camera rises to the floor above to witness another wordless drama unfold; a young woman with a slight limp preparing for bed. She opens her closet door, pulls out a nightgown, steps back; the camera moves in on a row of hung dresses, and Siodmak cuts to the closeup of an eye, zooms in on the eye ostensibly glaring at the woman though we aren't fooled for a second: the eye is really glaring at us, daring us to cry out a warning to her. 

A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011)

On Sigmund Freud's birthday, an old post:

The Talking Film

And David Cronenberg continues his wayward, at times misguided, but always fascinating attempt to evolve away from standard-issue horror prosthesis to something simpler, more challenging, far more abstract.

Just to backtrack: always thought Cronenberg made two kinds of films: one focusing on carnal (to be more specific: genital) horror (The Brood (1977), The Fly (1986), Dead Ringers (1988)), the other on intellectual horror (as early as The Dead Zone (1983), to Crash (1996) to Spider (2002) to this film). I'm oversimplifying, of course--The Brood is a manifestation of a woman's feelings, and Dead Ringers is as much about the psychic bond between twins as it is about their shared career as gynecological surgeons. On the other hand Crash is as much about the lurid qualities of flesh as it is about autoeroticism (in a radically different sense) while Spider deals with the reality of the protagonist's low-functioning brain as well as the psychological traumas that have caused it injury.

And now his latest, which mixes matters up as intricately as ever: the central philosophical conflict between two of the most influential minds of the 20th century--Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen, in his third fruitful collaboration with the director) and Carl Jung (Michael Fassbinder, in his first)--the catalyst being a young woman named Sabina Spielrein (Kiera Knightly), Jung's lover and later Freud's confidante.