Thursday, July 12, 2018

Bilanggo sa Dilim (Prisoner in the Dark, Mike de Leon, 1986)


John Fowles' debut novel The Collector has been adapted several times for theater stage and big screen, most notably by William Wyler, later by Mike de Leon for a 1986 feature--Bilanggo sa Dilim (Prisoner in the Dark) shot on video.

Comparing the two productions can be instructive: Wyler's is a smoothly executed Hollywood production with a fairly gripping finale; de Leon's feels more subdued, understated, unnervingly autobiographical. 

Thursday, July 05, 2018

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick)

A space prodigy

The first time I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey was in a basement, in a projected 35 mm print. I was maybe ten twelve years old, had heard about the film, and was eager to watch.

Bored me out of my skull.

Seeing it again and again over the decades is like coming to know an old friend. You weren't impressed at first, you learn to appreciate his better qualities, your growing admiration has been a part of your youth adolescence adulthood. 

Now you've seen him in full splendor--projected from a 70 mm print in all its unrestored glory, with flickers and scratches and cigarette burns and all--you realize you hardly knew him, or still have much to learn.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Hereditary (Ari Aster)

Home is where the harm is

The true horror in Ari Aster's Hereditary doesn't come so much from daemoniac forces as they do from human frailty and the cruel chaotic confusion of life.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Faust (Fritz Bennewitz)

Beat the Devil

First published in the Manila Chronicle 12/14/94

With the passing of Lino Brocka, Mario O'Hara is one of a shrinking handful of Philippine film directors whose films are worth getting excited about. Lino has already made his masterpieces; one disadvantage to being dead is that there are no more works forthcoming.

In films such as Condemned and Bulaklak sa City Jail Mr. O'Hara has proven that he can elicit memorable performances and excellent ensemble acting from Dan Alvaro, Nora Aunor, Maya Valdez, Zenaida Amador; even genial German Moreno gave a chilling turn as prison warden in Bulaklak. I will stick my neck out and say that he is Brocka's superior in visual style, as witness the dark gloriously film-noir look of Bagong Hari or the claustrophobic squalor in City Jail. As late as last year with Johnny Tinoso and the Proud Beauty he was still doing fascinating work: while the first half of the film is a mess of underfunded special effects and poorly imagined art direction, the second half is one of the more enchanting fantasies made that year, local or foreign. It was more hip and sophisticated than Disney's Beauty and the Beast and fully realized the complexities of the Nick Joaquin short story it was based on.

One more thing about O'Hara's career: it is difficult it is agony to choose between his acting and his directing. He is a brilliant director but is a just as brilliant if not more so actor. Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang is one of Brocka's more ambitious films (his best some say). O'Hara has the supporting role of a leper who lives in the outskirts of the village near a cemetery; his companion is a woman driven insane by a forced abortion, played by Lolita Rodriguez. Their roles are hoary old cliches that stink to high heaven of sickly sweet sentiment--or should: O'Hara and Ms. Rodriguez perform with sublime simplicity, treading the thin line between bathos and comedy. The result is a tender portrait of small-town outcasts; the film is a starring vehicle for Christopher De Leon (who fares well) but it's O'Hara and Rodriguez who stay with you.

 O'Hara has made a few appearances since (he was memorable in Brocka's Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa as a malevolent gardener out to seduce a repressed widow, again played by Lolita Rodriguez--what is it about the two that the chemistry between them is so potent?). He has gone into directing, resulting in the films already mentioned (for which I am grateful), and has done work on stage.

Which brings us to O'Hara's Mephistopheles in the PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) production of Faust. In England Shakespeare wrote among many plays Henry ll to Vll, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear; Germany has Goethe who wrote Faust. It took him sixty years and almost as long for modern audiences to sit through; PETA is doing only the first part but still--ambitious.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Manhunt (John Woo); Three (Johnnie To); Sky on Fire, Wild City (Ringo Lam)

Four by three

Playing catchup: in the everchanging landscape of World Cinema, what happened to Hong Kong's 'heroic bloodshed' movement--those action filmmakers who featured slow motion, balletic action sequences, guns pointed at each others' faces? 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Citizen Jake (Mike de Leon)

Citizen me

Mike de Leon's first film in--has it been eighteen years?--has to be an event; the latest from one of our finest filmmakers, in the same league as Lino Brocka, Mario O'Hara, Ishmael Bernal, Celso Ad. Castillo. If it's arguably the weakest feature he's done to date (hopefully not his last) it still stands head and shoulders above most anything out there today, Filipino or Hollywood. 

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Panahon ng Halimaw (Season of the Devil, Lav Diaz, 2018)

Rock the Devil

Not long after Brillante Mendoza's Amo (which takes its cue from Respeto's rap-driven score) we have Lav Diaz's take on the Duterte regime. Panahon ng Halimaw (Season of the Devil, 2018) is no small-scale response: two hundred and thirty-four minutes long, some six minutes short of four hours. And it's a musical.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Porco Rosso (Hayao Miyazaki, 1992)


Hayao Miyazaki's Porco Rosso started out as a manga for a modeling magazine turned into a short for Japan Airlines grew and grew and grew into his sixth animated feature--easily his oddest and most personal film.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Psychokinesis (Yeom-Iyeok, Yeon Sang-ho, 2018)

Best superhero movie of the year

I know I know I know I know--if you're sick of the genre as I am you probably don't want to hear about yet another super-powered protagonist, let alone the first ever to come out of South Korea. 

Yet I think Yeon Sang-ho's Psychokinesis (Yeom-Iyeok, 2018) is different. Or different enough to be worth a look.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Amo (Brillante Mendoza, 2018)

Who's the boss?

When Netflix announced that it was airing pro-Duterte filmmaker Brillante Mendoza mini-series (produced by TV5 Network), the intention was made clear from the get-go: to present "the other side of the coin" (as Mendoza states in an interview) of the drug war: "Yes, it (the drug war) is necessary for the Philippines--not only for the Philippines but also other countries afflicted with the drug problem." 

When interviewed by The Telegraph Mendoza's response (after the outraged response to his statement) was more measured: "This series will show the two sides of the coin," he says (italics mine). "The message is that we should all understand that there is a (drugs) situation in the Philippines…and now the government has really got very tough about it." He adds "I’m not saying that it should be addressed in the way that this government is dealing with it. But people tend to criticise and to give their opinions without even going deeper into the issue."

At least one human rights group has already voiced its opinion: The International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD) on hearing Netflix's declaration that the series is a "bold and suspenseful show that has the potential of capturing thrill-seeking audiences worldwide" has replied in an open letter: "This is a humanitarian crisis, not entertainment fodder."

The series itself? Well let me tell you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Superman 2 (Richard Lester, Richard Donner, 1980)

Margot Kidder 1948 - 2018 

Supermen two

(Story and plot twists of Superman II discussed  in close detail)

Thanks to the influence of the huge Hollywood superproduction that is Man of Steel (which I happen to despise) I was finally motivated to watch the Richard Donner cut of Superman II, and while I concede the technical superiority (the effects, music and overall tone have more of an organic whole) I do think the existence of this version only confirms what made Lester's version so memorable.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Breadwinner (Nora Twomey, 2017)

Tale spin

Nora Twomey's The Breadwinner (adapted from the children's novel by Deborah Ellis) is a gorgeous tapestry of a film, about a young girl and her family eking out a meager life in Taliban-run Kabul, in Afghanistan.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Laman (Flesh, Maryo De Los Reyes)

Belated tribute to Maryo J. de los Reyes (1952 - 2018)

Crazy for the flesh

When I first saw Maryo J. de los Reyes' Laman (Flesh) some sixteen years ago I thought it 'pretty good.' Some sixteen years later (has it been sixteen years?) it seems more than just good it's arguably some of the best work Maryo J. has ever done.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka, Isao Takahata, 1988)

Child's play

Some years back for history class I showed my students Isao Takahata's Hotaru no haka (Grave of the Fireflies, 1988), about a brother and his younger sister--Seita and little Setsuko--struggling to survive in wartime Japan (warning: film's story discussed in close detail).

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Pom Poko (The Racoon War, Isao Takahata, 1994)

Tribute to Isao Takahata (1935 - 2018)

Guerilla warfare

Isao Takahata's Pom Poko (The Raccoon War, 1994) begins with a little song where children call on the tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs) to come play and the tanuki reply that they can't--they're too busy eating pickled plums. The film goes on to outline the dogs' plight: land developers want to convert the forest of Tama Hills into suburbs--the same forest the tanukis have lived in for countless generations.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (Angela Robinson)


Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman makes no reference at all to the subject--partly I suspect because the multi-million dollar production is meant to earn that crucial PG-13 rating pulling in as many kids as permissible and still have Warner Brothers' DC Comics-style dark edgy feel. Which means no mention of the 'B' word (rhymes with 'suffrage') or the 'L' word (rhymes with 'primrose'--if you like 'thespian'), definitely no scenes with Gal Gadot uttering the superheroine's most infamous exclamation: "Suffering Sappho!" 

Enter Angela Robinson with golden lasso in one hand and Amazonian sword in the other slashing through the bull: Wonder Woman was the product of William Moulton Marston, drawing inspiration from his wife Elizabeth and student Olive Byrne (daughter of Ethel Byrne a famous feminist). He wasn't shy about his intentions in creating the character either: "Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world."

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg)


Adapted from Ernest Cline's bestseller, Ready Player One is Steven Spielberg's return to form as entertainer, in my book his finest incarnation. Which when you think about it isn't saying a lot, but is saying something. 

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Insiang (Lino Brocka, 1976)

Insiang: one unhappy family 

(WARNING: Plot twists and story discussed in explicit detail)

Lino Brocka opens Insiang (1976) with the closeup of a pig stabbed in the throat, blood pouring as if out of a spigot. We see row upon row of headless carcasses, bellies split open from neck to crotch, pink skin not unlike a human corpse. The film's cinematographer, the great Conrado Baltazar, captures the haze heat stink and noise of a busy slaughterhouse like no one else before or since.

An amazing beginning, with image foreshadowing the slaughter to come. The image is also a challenge: "Violence on flesh is nothing compared to the violence that can be inflicted on heart and mind." The slaughterhouse scene strikes a particular note, its message loud and clear: "the worst is yet to come." 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Annihilation (Alex Garland)


Meteor flashes across the sky strikes base of lighthouse; Special Forces husband presents himself to wife after an absence of two years; heavily armed scientific expedition walks into the light-and-time distorting perimeter of a jungle afflicted by a mysterious alien force, the twelfth such effort after the previous eleven (save for one notable survivor--the aforementioned Special Forces soldier) failed to return. 

Ladies and gentlemen welcome to Alex Garland's second feature--a loose adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer's novel that is if anything more bizarre and ruinously ambitious than his first (the wicked sexy Ex Machina).

Thursday, March 22, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time (Ava DuVernay)


Word is out: Ava DuVernay's adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's classic piece of children's literature has provoked critically mixed reviews, has reportedly underperformed at the box office. The Disney magic, so spectacularly validated with Ryan Coogler's critically and commercially beloved Black Panther seems with this production to have stumbled, big-time. 

The movie itself? Well--

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)

Catholic school girls in trouble

Have to admit that taking on actress-turned-filmmaker Greta Gerwig's second feature gave me pause. Not my favorite genre (the bildungsroman) nor was the milieu familiar (Sacramento, California)--tempted to throw up my hands say 'not my cup of tea!' and leave it at that.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Best of 2017

Best of 2017

What I've seen of 2017 with maybe three exceptions was good not great--which possibly reflects more on me and my viewing efforts  than on the year--but who can refrain from making year-end lists? I can't. I didn't.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The Post (Steven Spielberg)

Dies in darkness

Steven Spielberg's latest film may be--thanks to the timing and historical context in which it appears--the most important of his career.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro)

The drowned world

Guillermo del Toro's latest begins with a world already underwater--fish fluttering down a carpeted hallway, chairs and tables spinning in slow motion, a lamp and alarm clock settling gradually down to arrange themselves on a side table while the princess--head wrapped in a sleep mask--sinks into her couch. Then the alarm rings jerking Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) out of her gentle greenlit dream. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Magnifico (2003, Maryo J. de los Reyes)

Belated tribute to filmmaker Maryo J. de los Reyes: thoughts on one of his most highly regarded works

It's a wonderful life
Maryo J. de los Reyes' Magnifico is something fairly new in recent Philippine cinema: a wholesome family picture that's actually quite good. 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino)


And what of Luca Guadagnino's Call Me by Your Name, his adaptation of Andre Aciman's novel from a screenplay by James Ivory? I mean: two beautiful men, an Italian villa, a sundrenched summer in Lombardy, Italy--what's not to like?

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Downsizing (Alexander Payne)

Small scale

Alexander Payne's new film Downsizing is a slyer comic take on Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels than the Jack Black travesty some seven years back--is perhaps the best adaptation of this classic fantasy satire to date.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Ghost Story (David Lowery)

Comin around again

Not a fan of David Lowery's Pete's Dragon--in retrospect the picture probably had too much Disney in it and not enough Lowery to suit me. 

Heard good things about his latest though, so--thanks to the various recommendations, the pull of the intriguingly elemental title, the sparsely beautiful publicity stills (mostly involving a single slightly creepy figure in white sheet gazing at an empty room)--I decided to take a look.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Death of Louis XIV

Long live the

Albert Serra's The Death of Louis XIV at first glance shares the status of most living royalties in this more presidential more prime-ministerial world: it feels oddly anachronistic; it appears to hold little relevance to our lives; and very little is said or actually happens in its relatively brief and quiet reign, beyond the eponymous event. It's also to my mind one of the most gorgeous-looking--and funniest--films I've seen all year.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Dr. Who Christmas Special: Twice Upon a Time

Double jeopardy

(WARNING: plot twists throughout new Who's timeline discussed in close detail!)

It's the thirteenth Doctor Who Christmas Special; it's the Twelfth Doctor meeting the First (or as he prefers to put it the 'original') Doctor; it's Peter Capaldi's final bow; it's Steve Moffat's last word on the subject.