Saturday, December 19, 2020

Kisapmata (Mike de Leon)

All in the family

(Restored and with English subtitles, available for a limited time (Dec. 19, 7 AM to 11 PM Manila time, or Dec. 18, 7 PM to 11 AM Eastern))

Kisapmata (Blink) starts off quietly enough, with Mila Carandang (Charo Santos) informing her parents Mang Dadong (Vic Silayan) and Adelina (Charito Solis) that she's getting married to Noel (Jay Ilagan). Harmless enough scene--only why does Mila look like she's about to set off a hand grenade in the living room and why does Adelina pad quietly to the kitchen to fetch an ice pack for Dadong's sudden migraine, flattening her body against the wall when passing his chair?

Little details like that don't just embellish Mike De Leon's film but define it, set a tone that De Leon sustains throughout, that of a horror comedy.

A horror comedy? But let me explain.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Mank (David Fincher, 2020)


Not here to bury Mank; I defer to Welles specialist Joseph McBride's demolition job which may be angry but also densely authoritatively detailed-- he knows of what he speaks. Me? Just here to put my two centavos in.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Midnight in a Perfect World (Dodo Dayao, 2020)

History made at night

I thought Violator-- Dodo Dayao's debut feature-- to be one of the most intriguing of recent horrors; think Kurosawa Kiyoshi doing a punk remake of Rio Bravo, with Hawks' sticks of dynamite swapped out for the apocalypse. Midnight in a Perfect World sees Dayao stepping up his game, this time proposing a semi-utopian society afflicted with both drug use and police fascism. 

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Best of 1998

1998: the good, the bad, and the ugly 

1998 is a good year for films, but the good weren’t the ones you’d expect, and  didn’t come from where you’d expect. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Best films 1996

Your Politically Incorrect, High-Cholesterol Film Guide To 1996

 Film Year 1996 began well and ended—but I’m getting ahead of my story. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Rebecca (Ben Wheatley, 2020)


(WARNING: Plot of Daphne Du Maurier's / Alfred Hitchcock's / Ben Wheatley's Rebecca discussed in explicit detail!)

"How dare he?" I hear the folks hissing: "an Alfred Hitchcock classic, and an Oscar Best Picture winner!" Critics haven't been kind to Ben Wheatley's 2020 adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier novel, and who can blame them? It's as if he'd taken a spraycan to La Giaconda and smeared her smile lime green.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophuls, 1948); Yi ge mo sheng nu ren de lai xin (Letters from an Unknown Woman, Xu Jinglei, 2004)

A pair of unknown women 

(WARNING: details of Stefan Zweig's story, on page or in the big screen, are explicitly discussed!) 

Speaking of great, what other word can you use to describe Max Ophuls' Letter from an Unknown Woman? Hollywood refused to allow Ophuls his trademark long shots but even so you recognize the Ophuls style--in shorter gasps perhaps but thrillingly alive. The characters are filmed--caught if you like--in constant flux, literally and dramatically, fully aware that their life at any moment will irrevocably transform, like moths in an oil lamp.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The scariest movies ever

The scariest movies ever

Forbes Magazine posted an article (which I won't bother to link) claiming they have scientifically established the scariest movie ever made--based on a small sample size of viewers watching some 100 picks from IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Reddit. The 'study' measured the heart rate of the viewers and on that basis picked the most terrifying. 

To be fair the article is fairly upfront about some of its limitations (sample size, source of movies (IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes?)); what it doesn't even bother discussing is the validity of the chosen standard. I mean--heart rate? YouTube videos sometimes show a woman asleep in bed or a dog licking its balls; suddenly--boom! A loud shriek and a white face pops onscreen. Heart races--does that qualify? If you assemble enough of these videos in a 90 minute compilation would they outperform the number 1 title on Forbes' list? 

YouTube goes on to play a video of bizarre body parts. Right now I'm staring at the longest tongue I've ever seen stretch out to delicately pick her own nose; I imagine my heart accelerated a tad, and not out of arousal (I've seen octopus tentacles less elastic). Does that qualify? 

Likewise, if you watched the 2020 American presidential debate and your pulse jumped in irritation each time Trump opened his mouth to interrupt Biden, does that qualify?

O and the study's rationale: "to save them the time of searching through thousands of titles across streaming services like Amazon, Netflix and Shudder." How consumer-friendly; life is short, you can't waste time taking a chance on some unknown name or title. Go straight for the meat everyone else is gorging on, never mind the thrill of the hunt or the pleasure of an unexpected find. 

The choice of movies, the methodology, the very notion that an elevated heartrate is the be-all and end-all goal of horror is absurd. What's terrifying--more terrifying than most pictures on that list--is the apparent possibility that folks will actually believe in this shit, because it's from a major magazine (that specializes in finance) and it used the word 'science' on its title.

Horror should stimulate not just your bodily functions (heart, sweat glands, bladder control) it should--but check out my own titles, none of which are included in Forbes' clickbait piece, and see what I mean. 

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Lahi, Hayop (Genus Pan, Lav Diaz, 2020)

Planet of the apes

In his latest Lav Diaz has apparently toned down attacks on the Marcos and Duterte regimes, but if you think he's done so to deliver a kindler gentler more optimistic film to help us forget present troubles--think again. 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman, 2020)

I'm thinking of rending things

Charlie Kaufman's latest, a reasonably close adaptation of Iain Reid's novel, may provoke the desire to tear the Netflix-platformed film--or anything handy within reach for that matter--to little bits. It's that polarizing, I think.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Dahling Nick (Sari Dalena, 2015)

The write stuff

I remember the 1988 UP Creative Writing Workshop, the panelists and guest panelists including among others NVM Gonzalez, Amelia Lapena-Bonifacio, Jimmy Abad, Elmer Ordonez, and the intimidating Domeng Landicho--intimidating because Landicho at one point, having had enough of the workshoppers' brash insolence, stood up and on the spot delivered a fiery five-minute rap about (if I remember right) the stupid insolence of youth. I remember my fellow workshoppers and I leaning back against Sir Landicho's onslaught and, when he finally sat down satisfied he had pinned our collective ears to the rear wall, giving him (despite our burning lobes) a standing ovation. 

Some of my fellow workshoppers managed to rise to prominence: poet-playwright-novelist Vim Nadera; playwright-turned-filmmaker Auraeus Solito (aka Kanakan Balintagos).*

*(Perhaps the bestknown of my batch but I must say there were others who--because of lack of drive or of luck--failed to achieve fame but were equally talented if not more so

I remember the invitational dinner that closed the workshop, and the group picture we finally mustered the discipline and patience to assemble for. And I remember this elderly man with a bottle of San Miguel Pale Pilsen sweating in one hand shuffled up to one side of our group, draped an arm across a young Turk's shoulder, and grinned with us at the camera. 

As he shuffled away I whispered to my companion: "Who's that?" in a tone suggesting "Who does he think he is?!"

My companion stared. "That?" she said in a tone suggesting disbelief. "That's Nick Joaquin." 

I looked around wondering if I could catch sight of him again but he was gone. I've asked about that photograph ever since but lost contact with the photographer; last I heard she's gone too, tho I keep asking and looking and hoping. Forgive the longish anecdote, but that's the kind of keenness this man--shambling old, possibly drunk--can inspire in Filipinos.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Tatarin (Summer Solstice, 2001)

War of the sexes

Tikoy Aguiluz's Tatarin, based not so much on Nick Joaquin's famous short story as on the play he later adapted for stage, is about the oldest and longest-running war known to man, the war between the sexes. Joaquin's problem then was how to make this war relevant again to jaded audiences (the play was written in 1975); his solution was to set the play in the 1920s, when male-dominated Western Culture was just beginning to tremble. Aguiluz's adoption of Joaquin's stratagem is, I think, a smart move--this way he captures the very roots of the war (or at least of the 20th century edition of the war) as waged by our grandparents and great-grandparents; he photographs the combatants at a time when the battle is still urgent and raw, the stakes desperately high.

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, Auraeus Solito / Kanakan Balintagos, 2005)

Blossoming to the Max

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, Auraeus Solito, 2005) is a lovely little film, about a young gay boy named Maximo (Nathan Lopez) who forms an attachment with a handsome police officer named Victor (JR Valentin, a former ramp model).

Monday, August 24, 2020

Best of 1995

The end

EVERY film is guaranteed to have one, somewhere between the last explosive climax (nuclear chemical sexual) and the final crawl of credit. Prophets with placards declare its proximity: so do churches, religious sects--anyone with a vested interest in it and what happens after. All good things come to one eventually; you have one, I have one, everyone has one. It can be as remote as the universe’s edge, as close as the tip of your nose.

Welcome to The End; in this particular case, of the year’s crop of films. Has it been a good year or bad? 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Japan Sinks (Masaaki Yuasa, 2020)

Japan rises

Once again Masaaki Yuasa put out an anime series (Japan Sinks 2020, available on Netflix--actually his second after the delightful Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!) and once again he flouts the expectations of both fans of his work and fans of disaster movies. This time though Yuasa may have fashioned not just a quietly subversive disaster epic but the fictional narrative summing up our feelings about this disaster of a year 2020.

Where the source novel (by Sakyo Komatsu) focused on government efforts to cope with the cataclysm Yuasa (with co-director Pyeon-gang Ho and writer Toshio Yoshitaka adapting) focuses on the common folk struggling to stay alive. Where the novel had mostly Japanese characters the series makes an effort to include a more diversified cast: wife and mother Mari Muto is from Cebu, Philippines; popular YouTube celebrity KITE is from Estonia; hitchhiker and amateur magician Daniel is from Kosovo; submarine pilot turned research scientist Onodera--who predicted Japan's downfall--is a paraplegic (a source of unspoken embarrassment in everyday Japanese society). 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Pamilyang Ordinaryo (Ordinary People, Eduardo W. Roy Jr., 2016)

Brocka's children

Eduardo W. Roy Jr.'s Pamilyang Ordinaryo (Ordinary People 2016, now streaming on Netflix with English subtitles) is one of the many and arguably one of the best recent films to continue the brand of social realism Lino Brocka helped initiate in Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975)--if anything, raises the ante on challenges facing the eponymous couple. Aries (Ronwaldo Martin) and Jane (Hasmine Kilip) aren't just homeless they're homeless teens, aren't just homeless teens but married homeless teens with a month-old child named Arjan (a portmanteau of both their names) dependent on their constant hustling pursesnatching shoplifting for bare minimum sustenance.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Neomanila (Mikhail Red, 2017)

Mother and son

(Available for free on Youtube, with English subtitles)

Mikhail Red continues his oddward journey with his third feature set in Metro Manila's mean streets--to be more precise in the city of Pasig, one of the more eccentric corners of the National Capital Region. 

Pasig looks new feels new, the colonial Spanish architecture you see in the rest of the metropolis largely absent; Pasig in my childhood was cogon fields and farmlands till they sprouted neighborhoods then factories then (in the 90s) commercial hubs. Once started the growth barely paused; have not visited in seventeen years but the urban setting of Red's film is an alarming combination of Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell and an upgraded Maynila Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag. I mean--even the slums look new, the grime just smeared across concrete walls, the garbage freshly deposited down narrow alleyways.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Scorpio Nights (Peque Gallaga, 1985)

Marriage story

Come finally to the notorious Scorpio Nights (Peque Gallaga, 1985), a quickie production reportedly mounted (by Regal Studios) to take advantage of the promise of censorship-free screenings at the Manila Film Center. Just to make the challenge that much more difficult, Gallaga had suffered a heart attack in late 1984 and was still bedridden when shooting began (he reportedly directed most of the film lying on a portable cot). 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Virgin Forest (Peque Gallaga, 1985)

Enchanted Forest

The film's opening minutes are stunning. Cinematographer Conrado Baltazar seems to take his cue from Vittorio Storaro's work in Apocalypse Now, suggesting the vast seascapes and sensually textured sunsets of the Filipino countryside. A longboat glides down a river through eerie fog (another callback to Storaro) while a narrator sketches details of the American Army's true-life attempt to capture President Emilio Aguinaldo.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Unfaithful Wife (Peque Gallaga, 1986)

Anna Marie Gutierrez

Cafe flesh

(WARNING: plot twists and story points discussed in explicit detail!)

Comes the time to discuss the late great Peque Gallaga. The past few days have seen tribute after tribute; folks have expressed love and affection, not just for his films but for the man himself. His Oro, Plata, Mata (Gold, Silver, Death, 1982) is oft considered his best-known work, and one of the greatest if not the greatest Filipino film ever made.  

I'm not a big fan; yet why does he bother me so? Partly I think because even I can see he's prodigiously gifted--you can't look at the extravagant celebration that opens Oro and fail to acknowledge the talent--partly because I find him so undisciplined. Reportedly the film's original cut ran to five hours--it's said than Ishmael Bernal locked him out of the editing room to trim the length down to a merely intimidating two hundred and ten minutes. You wonder at the excess Gallaga must have proudly put on display before Bernal dragged the production back to earth; you also wonder about each and every one of his succeeding projects, on which would ultimately come out on top: the filmmaking or the recklessness?

Unfaithful Wife is arguably Gallaga's most earnest attempt at domestic drama, with generous doses of sex on the side to help sell the production. Crispin (Michael de Mesa) runs a beer garden with his wife Irene (Anna Marie Gutierrez); Fidel (Joel Torre) walks through the barroom doors and immediately Crispin's face lights up: he misses his longtime long absent friend.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Venganza (Vengeance, Manuel Conde, 1958)

Mario Montenegro as Simoun

Saith the Lord 

Precious little has been written online or on print about Manuel Conde save a book by Nicanor Tiongson (which I haven't been able to read, unfortunately, and is currently unavailable). The filmmaker is best known for his comic Juan Tamad (Lazy John) film series, and for writing producing starring in and directing a smallscale biopic on Genghis Khan that depicted the eponymous Mongol prince as an ambitious, charmingly inventive runt--the film competed in the 1952 Venice International Film Festival, the first ever Filipino film to do so.

Venganza (Vengeance, 1958) which Mike de Leon has made available on his Vimeo website (sans subtitles, alas) isn't as well-known and isn't the Conde we are familiar with: a straightforward drama about peaceful Simoun's (Mario Montenegro) vow of retribution when bandits led by Martinico (Eusebio Gomez) and Peklat (Scar, played by the always memorable Joseph Cordova) terrorize his village and cause the death of his newly wedded bride Pilar (Perla Bautista).

Monday, May 11, 2020

Ishtar (Elaine May, 1987)

Isabelle Adjani as Shirra Assel

Road to nowhere

Saw Elaine May's Ishtar again after so many decades. In my book still holds up (thank god), an early masterpiece of cringe comedy.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone)

Anti-social distancing

(Warning: story and plot twists described in explicit detail)

Locked down and stewing in your home, it can be a relief to view the works of Sergio Leone, particularly the later titles. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the WestDuck, You Sucker; and Once Upon a Time in America all have the expansive feel of a tale told of long ago, set in a mythological West (or America) so vast it makes the real thing (glimpsed at in daguerreotypes) feel claustrophobic. A pipe dream, in effect, concocted by your favorite nutty uncle sitting at the fireside with other kids gathered round, listening raptly. 

America, about Jewish gangsters in Prohibition New York, may be Leone's most sprawling ambitious work and possibly his masterpiece but West is arguably perfection, impeccably cast and executed. Even the stunt of using Henry Fonda as villain pays off--as the young boy looks slowly about him Leone inserts shots of his decimated family; enter the killers to the blare of an electric guitar, emerging from the surrounding brush like wraiths. The killers approach, and at one point the camera following behind swings around to peer at one of the faces and it's Mr. Lincoln--sorry, Mr. Fonda, not so Young anymore, as hired gunslinger Frank. The lined face the pale blue eyes, so iconic in American films, are pitiless here, faintly contemptuous even.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead, Victor Villanueva)

One happy family

Tolstoy started Anna Karenina with the statement: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I'll take that as permission to like Victor Villanueva's darkish family comedy Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead), about a family taking the four or so hours trip down the coast of  Cebu, from the island province's capital to Dumaguete City to attend the wake of their estranged father, the eponymous Hesus. The setup is obviously Little Miss Sunshine--dysfunctional family piles into van to take cross-country trip--but the ingredients and resulting dish are so distinctly Filipino I'd call this a valid variation on the original.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Best films of the 2010s

The best of the past ten 

A grim decade, grimmer now in its passing. Not a lot of comedies on my list, and what laughs are available often die strangled in the throat. Do the films reflect that grimness?  

In ascending order:

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Emma. (Autumn de Wilde)

Matchmaker, matchmaker

Emma. being the latest in a series of adaptations of Jane Austen and the latest adaptation of this particular novel, you want to ask: why? What does director Autumn de Wilde, screenwriter Eleanor Catton, and actress Anya Taylor-Joy bring to an already crowded table?

Monday, April 06, 2020

1917 (Sam Mendes)


Sam Mendes' 1917--about a pair of soldiers crossing No Man's Land to deliver a crucial message--is reportedly the odds-on favorite to win big at the upcoming Academy Awards ceremony this coming Sunday. Does it deserve the frontrunner status? Well let me put it this way:

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Andromeda Strain (Robert Wise)

Lone in the time of Corona

Best title recommendations when shut in your house waiting for the pandemic all-clear (which will come who knows when)? Escapist fare--musicals, comedies, tales of fantasy, adventure flicks that glorify can-do characters acting in marked contrast to us in our self-quarantined homes: helpless, frustrated, wondering what bleak future is in store.

If on the other hand you're of darker disposition and don't need movies like Aladdin or The Lion King to remind you of all the exotic locations you're never going to visit this year; if you'd rather watch films not to forget your present circumstance but to remind yourself that things could be much much worse--there's always Robert Wise's adaptation of Michael Crichton's first bestseller.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Your Name (Makoto Shinkai, 2016), In This Corner of the World (Sunao Katabuchi, 2016)

Call me by Your Name

by Alex and Noel Vera

Watched Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name out of curiosity. Everyone hailed the movie like a messiah descended from heaven to unleash upon the world his holy greatness.

Is Your Name the work of a messiah?

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell)

Every breath you take

Adaptations of HG Wells' The Invisible Man have always wrestled with the central premise: if you can't see the protagonist, how can he frighten you? How, stepping back a bit, does he make any kind of impression on the big screen? Unlike horror classics like Frankenstein or Dracula, silent filmmakers never risked an attempt; we had to wait till James Whale's 1933 version--with ingenious matte effects by John P Fulton and Frank D Williams--before we saw Wells' Griffin undo the bandages wrapped round his head, revealing nothing inside.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

Kaiba (Anime TV series, Masaaki Yuasa)

Total recall

Calling Masaaki Yuasa the new Miyazaki would sound tired, not to mention inaccurate--he's a little wilder, a little less restrained; calling him Makoto Shinkai's contemporary would be unfair--he's so much better (more subtle less sentimental) than the blockbuster director of Your Name and Weathering With You.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

Little movie

(WARNING: plot of novel and film adaptations discussed in explicit detail)

Have not read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, alas, but there have been enough adaptations to cement its reputation as a beloved literary classic, actress-turned-filmmaker Greta Gerwig's being the latest.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)

Crass war

(WARNING: plot twists and story discussed in close and explicit detail)

Bong Joon-ho's Parasite hums along nicely, a Rube Goldberg thriller whose parts are polished to a shine, slide over and into each other with lubricated precision.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Best of 2019: the sequel

Best of 2019, the sequel

(Continued from my Best of 2019 piece)

Loneliness, alienation, the feeling of being cut off from other people or from society in general--a persistent condition that seems to have become strangely prominent in the better films of this year.

Monday, January 27, 2020

The Kingmaker (Lauren Greenfield)

The iron butterfly

Lauren Greenfield's The Kingmaker is a welcome addition to the too-meager genre of documentaries and dramas attesting to the abuses of the Marcos' regime.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Best of 2019

The in my book best of 2019

After the anger that spat and sparked like a gunpowder trail through much of 2018 I found films released in 2019 a bit muted--strange considering how much louder and more urgent world developments have become, from climate-related disasters to the recent escalation in tension between Trump and well everyone else.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

Atlantics (Atlantique, Mati Diop, 2019)

Sea of love

I don't think there's much to uncover underneath the surface of Mati Diop's feature debut Atlantics (Atlantique, 2019) now available on Netflix. It's a love story--young girl Ada (Mame Bineta Sane) in love with poor boy Souleiman (Ibrahim Traore) but is promised to wealthy Omar (Babacar Sylla)--and as with all such stories the two lovers pine for each other for the duration of the film. Predictable simple trite--and yet and yet and yet

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Rise of Skywalker (JJ Abrams, 2019)

Recyclable Skywalker

Finally, the last installment of this third trilogy that George Lucas a long time ago in an era far far away once cobbled together, from Flash Gordon serials, The Adventures of Robin Hood, World War 2 fighter plane footage (particularly The Dam Busters) and most of all Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (with a brief callback to Yojimbo). The capstone to his grand edifice of a fantasy* franchise if you like.

Does the movie live up to all expectations?