So get this--black man becomes first black police officer in a large largely white town (the "Jackie Robinson of the Colorado Springs police force" as his superior puts it). He's consigned to the records room, requests a transfer to undercover; sees a recruitment ad for the KKK, dials the number, gets an unexpected voice at the other end, improvises a racist rant, is invited to join the group.
Sounds like one of the more outrageous skits dreamed up for the short-lived if memorable In Living Color--but it's a true story, based on Ron Stallworth's autobiographical account Black Klansman.
Two women Last October my mother died. Which to the world at large may not mean much. But it was with her in mind that I saw the digitally restored version of Mario O'Hara's Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976), recently released on iTunes.
an inappropriate choice. I was in a dark mood and the film--well the
title says it all: three years so awful the people felt abandoned by
A good man with a gun (Yet another film on the soon-to-vanish (Nov. 29) Filmstruck--in this case easily found on other venues (Google Play and iTunes) but difficult to find in Cinemascope; even Turner Classic Movies resorted to showing the cropped pan-and-scan version. Filmstruck presents the film in its original aspect ratio, and if ever the term 'quietly glorious' applied to a picture it applies to this. Again the plea: make the site (or one like it) available again--and available to other countries!) Say the name 'Jacques Tourneur' and the first wordthat comes to mind for most folks is 'horror' (the second possibly 'cat'). Tourneur has been directing since 1931 (mainly shorts) finally made a splash in the early '40s working for producer Val Lewton in Cat People (lowbudget, eerily beautiful) and I Walked With a Zombie (despite the pulpy title, my favorite adaptation of Jane Eyre). Say his name and the word 'westerns' rarely pops up--but his westerns do in fact represent some of his finest most memorable work.
Springtime for Hitler (Another in a series of tributes to the lamentable closing of Filmstruck, which not only shows rare films (Robert Bresson's The Trial of Joan of Arc) but also Hollywood classics--a comedy which if anything is still relevant today) Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be opened to mixed reviews and so-so box office. A comedy that poked fun at Nazism and Adolf Hitler? At a time when fascism threatened to swallow the world (Pearl Harbor happened a few months before)? Casablanca was released later that same year to better acclaim and boxoffice; Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator came out two years earlier to good business, despite being banned in parts of Europe and Latin America. Regarding this film Bosley Crowther in The New York Times harumphed: "To say it is callous and macabre is understating the case."
(Robert Bresson's film is available for streaming on Filmstruck, which will shut down by November 29; is still available though less readily on Amazon; should ideally be on a streaming service accessible everywhere including the Philippines(Filmstruck is confined to the USA) but alas isn't.)
The first film to come to mind viewing this stony ground of a picture is Carl Th. Dreyer's silent film, a series of gigantic closeups shuffled through at speed, arguably the most revered and the best-known version of the story.
Robert Bresson's response? "Grotesque buffooneries."
Mommy direst Part of what makes Halloween (2018) remarkable: the return of John Carpenter (helped with the music score); the return of Nick Castle (provided the heavy breathing and at one point actually plays masked killer Michael Myers); the return of Jamie Lee Curtis (reprising the role that made her famous, Laurie Strode). But for me what really sets this sequel apart from the ten other sequels reboots remakes and so on is a new name: David Gordon Green.
You need to keep reminding yourself: Damien Chazelle's adaptation of James Hansen's biographical book First Man is not The Right Stuff and astronaut Neil Armstrong (played by Ryan Gosling) is no Chuck Yeager nor was it--or he--meant to be. Question: does it still manage to stand on its own four radically redesigned fins?
Star wars There are as of this writing five count em five different versions of the story, of an ambitious young artist in love with a declining old star: George Cukor's What Price Hollywood? (1932) where film director Max Carey (Lowell Sherman) takes an interest in aspiring actress Mary Evans (Constance Bennett), based on a story by Adela Rogers St. John and Louis Stevens; William Wellman's A Star is Born (1937) where film star Norman Maine (Fredric March) spots aspiring actress Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor); Cukor's 1954 A Star is Born--for many the definitive version--where James Mason as Maine hooks up with Judy Garland as Blodgett; Frank Pierson's 1976 A Star is Born where Kris Kristofferson's John Norman Howard jumpstarts the career of Barbra Streisand's Esther Hoffman; and of course Bradley Cooper's spanking new version, with Cooper's Jackson Maine discovering Lady Gaga's Ally in a drag bar.
Monster, Inc. (CAUTION: plot and narrative twists--which aren't all that much and anyway aren't the heart of the film--to be discussed in explicit detail!) Hard to believe Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro was seen as a too-risky project, and had to be double-featured in its original commercial run with Isao Takahata's Grave of the Fireflies, an adaptation of a well-known World War 2 short story. Both made a modest profit (the former earning $6.1 million in Japan and Europe according to Wikipedia) but Totoro went on to become a family favorite, earning $265 million home video sales in Japan and the USA (again according to Wiki--sometimes you wonder at their figures). Totoro has since grown into a small but persistent cultural phenomenon: Studio Ghibli (which produced the film) adopted the creature as its corporate logo; a Japanese astronomer named an asteroid 10160 Totoro; biologists have dubbed a Vietnamese velvet worm Eoperipatus totoro; and I've spotted stuffed toys being sold in Rotterdam stores. Totoro is considered a family-friendly delight, purest sunshine and cheer. Some fans though make the case that the picture is darker than it seems, that despite the animator's reputation for creating epic adventures like Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke this little production is his true masterpiece.
Michael Almereyda's Marjorie Prime (2017) adapts Jordan Harrison's Pulitzer-nominated play to the big screen in a small way and it's marvelous. Eighty-five year old Marjorie (Lois Smith, who played the role in two previous stage productions) suffers the initial symptoms of Alzheimer's; to help her deal with the memory loss her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins) have installed a 'Prime'--a hologram-projected artificial intelligence--representing Marjorie's husband Walter (Jon Hamm) when he was a relatively young forty to talk to Marjorie, record her stories, remind her of any memories she might have forgotten, keep her company, give her all-around emotional support.
(Warning: narrative details and plot twists explicitly discussed)
Fantasy double feature: Akira Kurosawa's I Live in Fear (1955) and Roberto Rossellini's Europa '51 (1952) both ask the question: how should we deal with the man who holds extreme views on life? Humor him or condemn him? Or--unsettling thought--listen to what he has to say?
Back in the mid-90s found myself hooked on a particularly intense habit: Johnnie To movies. I'd seen A Hero Never Dies and The Barefoot Kid (his one period martial-arts film) had been digging through various DVDs ever since, hoping to find more.
Found this: Loving You (Mou mei san taam, 1995) what To considers his first real directing job (he'd made his first feature in 1980; by the time he did this he had some sixteen films under his belt). A crime flick with an inordinate focus on a failing marriage, a marriage melodrama with a terrifically tense confrontation thirty minutes in--I mean how would you handle being pinned in an alleyway by a villain on a fire escape, gun pointed down at you? He'd already fired a shot at your head and in the confusion the bullet had somehow missed its mark. Then your nose starts bleeding.
Last holdout Paul Schrader's First Reformed--his twenty-third directing job--is a tiny feature shot around Brooklyn and Queens in only twenty days, on a budget of roughly three and a half million dollars. Arguably his best work to date--or if not his best then somewhere up there.
Filipino filmmakerMario O'Hara passed on in 2012. His niece Janice O'Hara chose one of his scripts (rewritten extensively by father Jerry O'Hara) to be her debut feature (Sundalong Kanin (Rice Soldiers) arguably one of the best of 2014). Janice died two years later leaving us the one film, compelling us to ask: is there some kind of curse on this family that blesses them with filmmaking and storytelling talent, but relatively fragile lives?
Now Janice's twin sister Denise--who helped produce Sundalong Kanin--has dared that so-called curse by writing and directing her own debut feature.
Lynne Ramsay's films as narrative features are to put it mildly problematic: they rarely unfold in the approved straightforward manner; are elliptical to the point of obscure; are dark violent disturbing.
(Warning: article does not summarize the film's story--there are websites for that--but does go into detailed discussion of plot and narrative twists)
Call Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime, 1997) Studio Ghibli's biggest production to date; call it an attempted sequel to the 1984 Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, spinning out of control and grown to monstrous proportions; call it Hayao Miyazaki's attempt to directly take on Akira Kurosawa's jidaigeki films, in particular Seven Samurai. The animation outfit would go on to bigger efforts monetarily speaking but in terms of sweep complexity ambition this may be their greatest accomplishment.
to admit this straight out: know nothing about fashion or clothes.
I'd repeat that in Andrew Sach's approximation of a Basque accent but
for the record and to get it out of the way when it comes to
couture and textile and clothing design I know nothing. Nada.
Imagine my relief when Paul Thomas Anderson declares that his latest feature Phantom Thread
isn't about fashion either; it's about obsession, about an
artist's insistence on the primacy of his work, and a woman's need
for space and significance (In relation to a man? Knotty
question), about the constant struggle within a man to be either an
inspired creative mind or a total pain in the ass. Probably a
combination of or variation on both.
The best part of Steven Soderbergh's Unsane is easily the first half--when unwary businesswoman Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy from The Crown) is suddenly committed to a mental ward for unbecoming thoughts about suicidal ideation.
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.
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.
it again and again over the decades is like coming to know an old friend.
You weren't impressed at first but you learn to appreciate his better qualities, and your growing admiration has become part of your youth
Now that 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.
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 Kulangis 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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).
Guerrilla 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.
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."
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.
(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."
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sunshine 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?