Wednesday, September 11, 2019

John Denver Trending (Arden Rod Condez)

Presumed innocent

Don't let the rather innocuous-sounding title of Arden Rod Condez's debut feature John Denver Trending fool you: this is a harrowing film a horror film, entirely plausible yet nightmarish in feel.

It starts with a bit of bullying: John Denver Cabungcal (Jansen Magpusao) is a klutz at a school dance rehearsal, annoying classmates to the point someone depants him oncamera (the rehearsal is being recorded on a laptop); he's accused of pocketing someone's iPhone (a pricey commodity in the USA an even more valuable prize in the Philippines) his backpack taken from him to inspect for the presumably stolen good. Something in John Denver snaps; he knocks the snatcher down and beats him and this fateful act is recorded posted online goes viral.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, 2019)

Pulp fanfic

(WARNING Plot twists and story details explicitly--but what isn't explicit in this picture?--discussed

Finally Quentin Tarantino's mildly racist markedly misogynistic mostly masturbatory Once Upon a Time in Hollywood has hit Filipino screens and if all indications prove correct it will be a major hit. Maybe not as big a hit as Marvel's Avengers: Endgame--which I didn't much like either--but do love the way folks have spun the popularity of Tarantino's wankfest: as one of the rare non-sequel non-franchise pictures to open to good boxoffice. 

Which is funny because the spin 1) assumes boxoffice truly madly deeply matters, and 2) assumes (correctly in my book) that our standards have fallen so sharply when something successful isn't a sequel or a franchise it must be The Second Coming. Or in this case The Second Self-Coming.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Thief and the Cobbler (Richard Williams, 1993)



(In tribute to Richard Williams, 1933 - 2019)

(The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut Mark 4 can be streamed or downloaded on this site)

Once 

there was an animator, Richard Williams, who built a name out of fashioning animated shorts. 

In 1964 Williams illustrated short stories about the mythical comic figure of Nasrudin which, in 1968, he turned into a film project. When support fell apart (in 1973), he took characters and stories he worked on--particularly his favorite, a thief--and repurposed them into a new production he would end up calling The Thief and the Cobbler

Williams and his people continued developing the film on and off for some twenty years, using money earned from commercials, television specials, and film credit assignments. He would describe Thief as a "100 minute Panavision animated epic feature with a hand-drawn cast of thousands" that is "not following the Disney route...It has no sentiment and the two main characters (the thief and cobbler) don't speak. It's like a silent movie with a lot of sound." He adds "the idea is to make the best animated film that has ever been made." It was his child, his dream project that he hoped--somehow, someday--to complete; the film's legend grew accordingly.

Steven Spielberg saw footage of Thief, hired Williams as animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Rabbit turned out to be an award-winning monster hit, and Williams' golden opportunity; when Warner Brothers offered $25 million to help finish Thief, Williams accepted--but the film had to be finished by 1991.

Williams and his crew labored mightily, sometimes up to sixty hours a week, the filmmaker often firing animators right and left (harsh, but to be fair no one worked harder than Williams; said animator Roger Visard: "He was the first person in the morning and the last one out at night"). When the deadline came and went Williams was forced to present what he had: a workprint with 85 minutes of footage, with pencil tests and storyboards to cover over gaps in the story. He needed six more months to draw the remaining fifteen minutes, he claimed, and the film would be complete.

Warner backed out of their deal. Disney was about to open Aladdin--which, viewed closely, included characters and animated sequences that resembled those in Thief (some of its animators were people Williams had fired) and the idea of competing directly against the mighty Mouse felt like a losing proposition (different scenario if Williams had finished on time, and Warner was able to pre-emptively release the film). In 1992, Williams' dream project of some twenty-four years was taken from him by a completion bond company, which cut footage out and put in (cheap-looking) animation involving musical numbers (because, y'know, Disney). The result was released as The Princess and the Cobbler, and promptly failed at the box-office ($669,276 in receipts against a $28 million budget). 

Miramax Films--a company notorious for buying up and mutilating independent pictures before releasing them in the American market--bought Thief from the bond company, mutilated it some more, added celebrity voices to the silent thief and cobbler, released the film as Arabian Knight...which also did poorly with the critics and not much better at the box office. 

And so matters remained.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Moonrise (Frank Borzage, 1948)

Moonshine

The film starts out a fevered dream: warped feet walking across the screen, steps rippling outward like a malignancy; camera shifts and we realize we're looking at the water reflection of three men crossing a concrete floor. Your eyes focus on the leading man's hands: they hang limp from heavily resigned arms. Why?   

Things--as they do in noir--happen faster than our ability to comprehend them: the feet walk past others gathered in what looks to be a standing crowd, mount a wooden scaffold; the camera turns aside to gaze at the scaffold's shadow (catching a glimpse along the way of the viewers--it is a crowd, all holding up umbrellas, a single grim expression on every face) in time to see a man--the same man whose hands caught our attention--being fitted with hood and noose round his neck; another man pushes a lever and

Cut to the man's shadow swinging from its rope and a baby shrieking. The camera moves in on the baby's face, eyes averted, reflecting the camera's reluctance to watch the horror; the camera pulls back and we realize it's not the man but a doll, swinging over the baby's crib. 

The opening hits like a blow to the gut (A tug to the throat?) but what lingers is the mocking cruelty of that doll. Who does that to a child? What does that do to the child?


Thursday, August 15, 2019

Eerie (Mikhail Red, 2018)

Nun other

At its best Mikhail Red's Eerie is exactly that: eerie. The son of pioneering indie filmmaker Raymond Red has I'd say inherited his father's eye for editing composition lighting, fashioning films that are (whatever else you might say about them) strikingly visual, with accompanying social commentary. 


Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Lookout (Afi Africa, 2018)

Out of Africa

Afi Africa's The Lookout first appeared in last year's Cinemalaya Festival, to less than stellar notices. You can hardly blame the skeptics: the script features largely unsympathetic characters, a complex plot told nonlinear fashion, a generous (or--depending on how you feel about such things--excessive) dose of languorously lingered-upon sex.

The film is flawed to put it mildly; the question one might ask instead is: anything here worth noting? Anything that might have been done different, maybe lessons that could be learned for next time?


Thursday, August 01, 2019

Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller)

Shoot the moon

For the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, a re-release oTodd Douglas Miller's Apollo 11 documentary in several theaters (plus Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu) including spectacular never-before-seen 65 mm color footage of the launch, capsule recovery, and aftermath (mainly activities aboard the USS Hornet).

Miller tells the story direct cinema style: no narration or interviews staged for the film, only what's available from archives--most notably Walter Cronkite's voice as the nation's official storyteller, explaining events onscreen.


Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019)

Got to get away

Midsommar, Ari Aster's follow up to his terrific (at least for the first three-fourths) Hereditary, improves on the earlier work this much: instead of situating his narrative in relatively familiar Utah he moves his story to an exotic faraway land (well Sweden) where the notion of a possibly malevolent conspiracy can be more easily swallowed. Yes xenophobia, though arguably much of horror literature and film sprouts out of fear of the Other.

Dani Ardor (Florence Pugh) is having a bad day to put it mildly: her anthropologist boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) is thinking of leaving her but doesn't have the courage to let her know; her bipolar sister is thinking suicidal/homicidal thoughts; Dani herself (if we're to believe her boyfriend and his friends) seems too wound up to enjoy much of life, clings to Christian too tightly to allow him to breathe much less enjoy his life.

Enter Christian's classmate Pelle (Vilhem Blomgren) who proposes a trip to his home community in the province of Halsingland (Sweden) for the midsummer--a special celebration that happens only once every ninety years. Dani learns about the outing and wants to come along; Christian reluctantly (and to his friends' dismay) agrees. 

Do we know where all this is going? You bet.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

Kuroneko (Black Cat, Kaneto Shindo, 1968)

Catspaw

Kaneto Shindo's Kuroneko (Black Cat, 1968) is a horror film whose single most horrifying act occurs in the opening minutes. 

A hut surrounded by a grove of great wavering bamboo; a band of men stepping out of the treeline to approach the hut. The men enter, see two women huddled by a fire. Their eyes meet; the men step forward.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980) - 4K restoration

Wait till your father gets

--on the occasion of the film's 4k restoration

"(N)othing is so frightening as a labyrinth with no center" Jorge Luis Borges, quoting GK Chesterton*

Stanley Kubrick, reportedly dismayed by the poor boxoffice of Barry Lyndon, decided his next project would be a horror film; he skimmed through the opening pages of a stack of books (tossing aside those that failed to hold his attention) settled on Stephen King's The Shining, about a haunted hotel that turns an alcoholic father against his wife and telepathic son.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Lapu-Lapu (Lamberto Avellana, 1955)

Comic book hero

(Another LVN Film, available on Mike De Leon's Citizen Jake vimeo website)

Lamberto Avellana's Lapu-Lapu (1955) is about as straightforward a biopic as you can get about the famed Mactan warrior, other than the fact that this was adapted from Francisco Coching's highly romanticized (to put it mildly) komiks serial.


Thursday, June 06, 2019

Pag-asa (Hope, Lamberto Avellana, 1951)


Cinderella story

(Yet another Lamberto Avellana film (Pag-asa or Hope, 1951) available on Mike de Leon's Citizen Jake vimeo site--this one of decent clarity, with English subtitles)

Mike de Leon, in passing: "Huk, despite the propaganda, in my opinion, remains one of the best Avellana films. Along with Pag-asa."

Which piqued my curiosity (Pag-asa?); which compelled me to look the film up. Turns out it's a gem--arguably the most likable of Avellana's films, or at least of those readily available for viewing.



Celing (Priscilla Cellona) and younger brother Piding (Ike Jarlego Jr.) arrive at the mansion of Don Paco (Paco Zamora) with a letter: their father has died and entrusted them to his care. Care however means in the hands of Don Paco's wife Dona Esperanza (Naty Bernardo) who slaps Piding and yanks Celing's hair and threatens to send the boy to Lulumboy. Later Piding sneaks out of bed to pack, in preparation for running away; Celing catches him in the act, and he explains why the threat of Lulumboy terrifies him so: "They'll cut off my tongue, my nose, and my ears!"


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Kundiman ng Lahi (Folksong, Lamberto Avellana, 1959)

Country girl

(Again, a film from LVN studios, available (without subtitles, alas) on Mike de Leon's Citizen Jake vimeo website)

Give it to master Filipino filmmaker Lamberto Avellana: he knows how to start a picture. Badjao had a horn blown to gather a village of house canoes, forming a seaborne village; Huk sa Bagong Pamumuhay began with a detonating grenade; Anak Dalita evoked Roberto Rossellini in neorealist mode, tracing the ruin of a church from the tip of its fractured belfry to the people teeming at the base of its crumbling walls. Kundiman ng Lahi (Folksong, 1959), Avellana's last film for LVN studios, trumps them all I think: no blown horn, no explosives, no church ruins, just the monotonous thumping of a wood pestle milling rice in a mortar. An obvious symbol--we're grain, our husk (our innocence, our sensitivity) stripped off of us to a relentless beat--but also a sexual one, the phallic pestle pounding into the concave mortar, turning hard seed into tender food.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Anak Dalita (Child of Sorrow, Lamberto Avellana, 1956)

Survivor type

Yet another Lamberto Avellana film on Mike de Leon's Citizen Jake vimeo site, this one arguably his most famous: Anak Dalita, or Child of Sorrow (1956)

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Fifteen Filipino films

(Thanks to Video 48 for some of the pictures)

Fifteen Filipino films

My old list.

Pinoy Rebyu's list

This can be neither comprehensive nor complete. We've lost so many of our films to vinegar syndrome, to New Year celebrations, to general apathy and neglect; a kind of accelerating cultural Alzheimer's, a tragedy I would argue comparable to many recent disasters only instead of lives lost we're losing our sense of self. This is a mere sample a sketch--a glimpse if you like--of what I believe are the finest Filipino films I've managed to see to date.

A film is composed of many elements--dialogue, sound, music, color, movement, the shape and texture of people's hands eyes faces. Of all these elements I'd say the most expressive are the last three--but that's me saying so, an assertion just dying to be contradicted (ask Michael Powell, or Robert Bresson).

And a list (any man's list, which I consider superior to any aggregate) is ultimately futile, is a man's way of insisting on his priorities biases (occasionally hopefully) insights.

I love futile gestures.

This for better or worse is mine.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Badjao (The Sea Gypsies, Lamberto Avellana, 1957)

Waterworld

Yet another of Lamberto Avellana's LVN films, available at Mike de Leon's Vimeo site:

The film starts with an image of waves lapping onto shore, the divide between land and sea stretching diagonally across the screen. With the first frame Avellana (collaborating with the great cinematographer Mike Accion) sums up the film: the tension between sand and surf, between people of differing loyalties, communities, ethnicities. A man standing beside a roof of dried palm raises his horn against clouded sky and blows; cue the bombast (and lovely lilting melody) of Francisco Buencamino Jr.'s theme music.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Jino to Marie (Gino and Marie, Joselito Altarejos)

Sex tape

Joselito Altarejos' Jino to Mari (Gino and Marie, 2019), about a pair of sex workers hired to do a Japanese porn film, is (to put it mildly) explicit--about as explicit as a Filipino independent film probably gets nowadays without actually being porn.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Huk sa Bagong Pamumuhay (Huk in a New Life, Lamberto Avellana, 1953)

Rebel yell

Available on filmmaker Mike de Leon's Citizen Jake Vimeo site: Lamberto Avellana's postwar drama Huk sa Bagong Pamumuhay (Huk in a New Life, 1953), about a wartime guerrilla who out of desperation joins communist forces seeking to overthrow the Filipino government.


Thursday, April 04, 2019

Widows (Steve McQueen, 2018)

Breaking bad

Steve McQueen's Widows is a sketch of urban corruption, a low-key indictment of racism and (a touch louder) misogyny, a rich character study. It's also a hell of a crime pic.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Shoplifters ( Manbiki Kazoku, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2018)


Family business

Hirokazu Kore-eda's film begins with as unremarkable an opening as possible: a father and his son enter a grocery split up to walk down separate aisles. Only father and son keep throwing each other sidelong glances and hand signals; only son does a little finger twiddle that we'll see from time to time; only when a clerk working nearby glances at son father walks up to block the clerk's view while son drops several packets of instant ramen in his backpack. Graceful bit of choreography made casual by long practice, understated yet captivating in its intricacy.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

At Eternity's Gate (Julian Schnabel)

Bifocal

It isn't as if the life of Vincent Van Gogh hasn't been adapted for the big screen before. Lust for Life was Vincente Minnelli's lusty take (based on Irving Stone's novel), with Kirk Douglas holding little back as he strained to suggest Vincent's intensity; Robert Altman's Vincent and Theo focused on the relationship between the Van Gogh brothers and their destructively parallel trajectories; Maurice Pialat's Van Gogh--easily the most unsentimental of the collection--presents a harsh uningratiating view of a harsh uningratiating artist, avoiding the traditional highlights (including that ear thing) and dwelling on more quotidian activities--Pialat doesn't even make much effort to show the paintings, or approximate Vincent's unmistakable style onscreen. 

So what does Julian Schnabel's latest bring to the party? 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Kangkungan (Swamp Patch, Mike De Leon)

2019 Kangkungan A Video by Mike De Leon from Citizen Jake on Vimeo.

Swamped

First the title: 'Kangkungan'--literally swamp (or water) spinach patch. A highly nutritious green that flourishes in canals and fishponds all over the Philippines, often sauteed with fermented shrimp paste and minced garlic. What's the significance?

Filmmaker Mike De Leon--one of the last surviving filmmakers from the great period of '70s Philippine cinema--breaks out of his self-imposed retirement again (he'd been inactive since Bayaning Third World (Third World Hero) came out recently with Citizen Jake) to release this short on the eve of the 1986 EDSA Revolt anniversary.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)

The apple of her eye

Yorgos Lanthimos' latest film The Favourite may be his oddest yet if you stop and consider his work so far, from breakthrough feature Dogtooth (about a family teaching a  skewed view of the world to its walled-in children) to the recent The Killing of a Sacred Deer (about a curse hovering over a physician's family) where metaphorical fantasy and (better yet) the machinations of human nature give his films a memorably loopy spin.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Best of 2018


The hate list

From where I'm standing it was a fearful year an angry year a hateful year; a rollercoaster ride a terrorfilled plunge a horrorshow. 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Burning (Lee Chang Dong)

Gone girl

I can't think of a more ambiguous elliptical unsettling film last year--or for that matter the past several years--than Lee Chang Dong's Burning. Like its eponymous action the film transforms itself several times over, from a chance encounter to a budding affair to an intricately constructed frankly mystifying triangle to something else entirely (among other things, a missing person search and a stalking)--each stage combusting material releasing volatiles sending soot and ash and smoke tumbling upwards to form sinuous suggestive shapes.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Mary and the Witch's Flower (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2017)

Reprise

Here's a pretty pickle: how do you follow after the work of arguably one of the greatest animated studios in recent decades? With the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and the shuttering of Studio Ghibli (actually old news: he has come out of retirement and the studio has since unshuttered) many of the people who worked there have established their own outfit, Studio Ponoc, and this film--Mary and the Witch's Flower (Meari to Majo no Hana) helmed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There, Secret World of Arrietty) is their debut offering.

On first glance you'd think they simply stepped right into the problem: the opening is an escape as wordless and thrilling as the opening of Castle in the Sky: young girl cradling some blue and precious object flies away in a broom stick, closely pursued by creatures not unlike the glutinous henchmen in Howl's Moving Castle (Miyazaki among other obsessions has his gleefully scatological side); an explosion of unknown origin the broom blown out of control the girl plummets to an unknown fate below. 

Friday, February 01, 2019

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos, 2018)


Angerman

Panos Cosmatos' Mandy is a trip through a tabletop landscape dotted with scenic views and sudden detours with long sessions of intravenous pleasure with jolts of hilarity and horror.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)

Andrew Garfield as Rodrigues
And the rest is

(WARNING: story and ending discussed in explicit detail)

The film begins with the sound of cicadas whirring rhythmically over a black background. The sound drops out, the film title (simple white letters) flashes onscreen. Cut to a vision of hell: a guard cloaked in steam stands beside a wood shelf topped with severed heads. We are at the volcanic springs of Unzen, near Nagasaki, where friars are strung up on crosses and longhandled ladles with holes sprinkle boiling water, delicately poaching their skin (Today of course the springs are a popular vacation resort). 

Welcome to Martin Scorsese's idea of heaven: his thirty-years-in-the-making version of Shusaku Endo's Silence, completed at last and screened to near-universal acclaim (and near-empty theaters) in 2016.