Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Nightmare Alley (Guillermo del Toro, 2021)

Dead end

(Warning: plot of the 1946, 1947, and 2021 discussed in explicit detail

Guillermo del Toro's Nightmare Alley, adapted from William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 novel, is arguably his most unabashedly grim head trip--leisurely paced, impeccably acted, sumptuously designed and shot, it forsakes the science fiction and horror tropes del Toro is fond of wielding (sometimes like a sledgehammer) to translate Gresham's nihilistic vision to the big screen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

West Side Story (Steven Spielberg, 2021)

Batang West Side

Not sure why people are surprised Spielberg has done a dance musical--arguably he's been making them throughout his career, from the deadly pas de deux between the colossal Peterbilt and little red Valiant in Duel to the lines of police cars snaking behind Goldie Hawn in The Sugarland Express to the Ferris Wheel strolling down a seaside dock in 1941 to the alien ships playing tag across the clear Wyoming skies in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Spielberg isn't just a master at shooting people dancing (see the USO dance hall sequence in 1941), he's a master at shooting anything dancing, from cars to saucers to Ferris wheels; the first time we manage to view the entire Great White in Jaws (after teasing us for about an hour) Spielberg cuts to a high overhead shot of the creature gliding smoothly past the fishing vessel (accompanied by John Williams' eerie harpstrings) and we see with an electric tingle shooting up our spine that it's about the size of the vessel. That's why the quip "You're gonna need a bigger boat" lingers so in memory--turns out Police Chief Brody was right. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, 2021)

Power of the perverse

(Warning: some hints and suggestive talk about the film's narrative twists)

Jane Campion's latest-- her first feature in eleven years-- is hailed as one of her finest yet; high praise considering, for the director of Sweetie, The Piano, Bright Star, Top of the Lake among others. 

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Historya ni Ha (History of Ha, Lav Diaz, 2021)

Puppet mastered

Lav Diaz's Historya ni Ha (History of Ha) may be his strangest work yet. If in Ang Hupa (The Halt, 2019) he proposes a Filipino dystopia complete with dictatorship and pandemic and volcano-induced darkness, and in Panahon ng Halimaw (Season of the Devil, 2018) he presents the Philippines' first-ever black-and-white, sung-through, no-instrument musical, this you might say is his Dead of Night--an astringently deadpan blackly comic film about a ventriloquist and his dummy. 

Monday, November 29, 2021

The Eternals (Chloe Zhao, 2021)

Live long and prosper

Saw The Eternals and lemme put it this way: best MCU in recent years, worst Chloe Zhao to date. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

NIda Blanca

Nida Blanca

What made her such a memorable actress? Her smile, which was unique; it had a queer twist to one side as if wanting to turn into a sneer, something worthy of Barbara Stanwyck in a noir thriller. It didn’t, not quite; it accompanied eyes that opened wide in surprise and wonder, or narrowed into an intense laser stare. The problem with those eyes--or the glory of them whichever way you saw it--was the twinkle you saw, a twinkle that said she was only kidding, that the near-sneer was a put-on, that the tough-girl image was merely a fa├žade defending her from a tough world.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Mario O'Hara's Uhaw sa Pagibig (Thirst for Love, 1984)

Forgotten silver

I watched Mario O'Hara's Uhaw sa Pag ibig (Thirst for Love, 1983) expecting a mediocre production--no awards, no admiring words from anyone--and for the first thirty minutes or so the film confirmed my suspicions: your run-of-the-mill fallen-woman story where Lala (Claudia Zobel) fights with her mother (Perla Bautista), gets pregnant by her boyfriend (Patrick de La Rosa), plans to elope with said boyfriend (who is stabbed while waiting in an alley), eventually runs away from home.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Halloweeen Kills (David Gordon Green, 2021)

Scare tactics

(Warning: plot points of both the 2018 Halloween and 2021 Halloween Kills discussed in explicit and gory detail)

"I come to bury Caesar not praise him," Marc Antony once said standing over Caesar's corpse, making brutal appreciation of his former friend; I know how he feels. Lay David Gordon Green's Halloween Kills across the autopsy table and you're forced to agree with most critics: this is not a pretty sight. I mean--long character expositions sutured to grotesque murders of said characters; loud thumping music stretched to cover entire missing sections of narrative and huge gaps in logic; conventions from different genres stuffed like so many makeshift organs into the film's carcass in the hope that the mess will come to life, rough thread punched in and out of festering leather in a parody of stitching. If this unholy assembly ever manages to lurch off the table and stumble across the bloodslicked floor the audience will shriek--more at the sheer gracelessness of the filmmaking, I imagine, than any violence actually depicted.   

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

No Time to Die (Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021)

Time enough for love

(Plot twists and story discussed in explicit detail)

Latest of a longrunning franchise, last to feature latest Bond Daniel Craig. Best of the lot tho I'm not a fan of of the series from Roger Moore onwards. Craig I'll admit is one of the better actors in the role, second to Connery (who didn't do his best work in this series). I trust I make myself clear as mud. 

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Pedro Penduko (Gerardo de Leon, 1954)

The legend begins

Legendary komiks writer-artist Francisco Coching's best-known work first saw light of day in Liwayway Magazine; its first of many incarnations on the big screen was this, Gerardo 'Gerry' de Leon's homespun folksy Pedro Penduko done the same year (if web sources can be trusted). 

De Leon is one of the few great filmmakers who dabbled in comics (others include--off the top of my head--Robert Altman, Mario Bava, Lino Brocka, Celso Ad. Castillo (who did a remake starring Ramon Zamora in 1973), Ishmael Bernal, Lamberto Avellana). The previous year de Leon had also adapted Mars Ravelo's Dyesebel, and while I generally agree with Martin Scorsese's jab at the Marvel Cinematic Universe I do think some comic-book adaptations are cinema--you just have to decide which. 

Friday, September 24, 2021

Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0: Thrice Upon a Time (Hideaki Anno, 2021

End of everything

(Details of plot twists and narrative discussed in detail)

I remember my initial reaction to Neon Genesis Evangelion, from TV series to expanded film versions, ending with the assertion that Anno has "some growing up to do". I take back my dismissive attitude towards the TV finale--no matter how experimental End of Evangelion became (and it admittedly got pretty experimental with money to burn, a tribute to the financial success of the series) that finale only proved how truly radical the series was, almost entirely by accident (a combination of cost and time overruns plus Anno's own indecisiveness as to form)--I mean, an intricate narrative involving mechas that ends with neither mechas nor narrative but a group session in a high school gym? It wasn't fair to viewers (Who shot Kaji? Why kidnap Kozo? What happened to NERV, or for that matter the rest of humanity?) but definitely wasn't run-of-the-mill.  

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Malignant (James Wan, 2021)


(Warning: plot twists and story discussed in explicit and gory detail)

James Wan's Malignant promises more than it delivers: a Dario Argentoish giallo that morphs into Cronenbergian body horror that turns, rather wanly, into life-affirming feminism. Three-fourths of the way through there's a supposedly wild twist but really nothing we haven't seen before, from The X-Files' episode "Humbug" to George Romero's The Dark Half to Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall to--if we consider this a variant on the doppelganger genre--Dostoevsky's The Double to Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Candyman (Nia DaCosta, 2021)

Call me by your name

The script of Nia DaCosta's Candyman is problematic, to put it mildly. It seeks to repurpose a pop gothic figure under a more politically correct ideology; it seeks to deliver a more hopeful overall message that acknowledges current racial tensions, while still administering intense doses of gore not to mention satire to a (presumably) bloodthirsty audience. 

Does it work? Tell you what I think:

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Best of 2001

A film odyssey

The search for cinema in 2001 started out with one of the less admirable, Yam Llaranas’ Balahibong Pusa (Pussy Hairs), an unwholesome mix of MTV, San Miguel Beer commercials, and Mike de Leon’s Kisapmata. It was screened side-by-side with Gil Portes’ Gatas sa Dibdib ng Kaaway (In the Bosom of the Enemy), a passably crafted (meaning it didn’t look like a San Miguel Beer commercial) love triangle between a woman, a guerilla, and a Japanese officer in World War 2.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

In the Mode for Love

In Wong Kar Wai's latest In the Mood for Love Tony Leung plays Mr. Chow, Maggie Cheung plays Mrs. Chan. He's a newspaper reporter; she's a secretary. They're both married and suspect their respective spouses are having affairs; it's when they learn that Mrs. Chow is having an affair with Mr. Chan that their eyes finally turn to each other, in mutual hurt and longingA neat premise, neat enough to make you sit up and want to know what happens next. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Cinemalaya 2021

Baker's dozen

Cinemalaya 2021 is the first in the longest while I've seen all of a Filipino film festival's competition entries, and that mainly because they're shorts (all available on KTX.PH). I've heard disappointment from some corners--apparently this was how Cinemalaya 2020 went and I understand how they feel but 1) I don't really consider shorts necessarily inferior to features (as with short stories vs. novels each form has its virtues and vices) and 2) I've been so hungry for new Filipino work that for me this was a sprawling table of tapas (in the Spanish not Filipino breakfast sense) featuring a wide array of flavors.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Heremias: Unang Aklat - Ang Alamat ng Prinsesang Bayawak (Heremias: Book One - The Legend of the Lizard Princess, Lav Diaz, 2006)

A prophet in his own land

Lav Diaz's Heremias (2006) is 540 minutes long, an hour shy of the length of Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino (Evolution of a Filipino Family, 2004), presently the record holder of the title 'longest single Filipino feature'--but then this picture is only part one, subtitled (or so I'm told) Book 1 - The Legend of the Lizard Princess. Ebolusyon spanned a broad canvas, featuring not just the story of two families (rice farmers in Tarlac, firewood gatherers aspiring to become gold miners in the Benguet Province) but the recent history of the Philippines as represented in a series of documentary footage, from Marcos' declaration of martial law in 1972 to the EDSA Revolt in 1986 to the massacre of farmers on Mendiola Bridge in 1987. Along the way Diaz stuffed the film with all kinds of conceits, from film critic Gino Dormiendo playing Lino Brocka in a series of televised interviews, to a plot to assassinate Brocka (?!), to a series of hilariously melodramatic radio broadcasts that the families listen to weekly, with religious fervor, as if at Sunday Mass. Heremias is different--the odyssey of a man (Ronnie Lazaro) from his village to the city and back; more, it's his journey from a state of innocence to knowledge, disillusionment, guilt.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Mitchell Leisen (Death Takes a Holiday (1939), Midnight (1939), Kitty (1945), To Each His Own (1946), No Man of Her Own (1950))

Rich Mitch

I'd been meaning to see more Guy Madden films before they leave the Criterion Channel on July 31, but somehow got sidetracked by Death Takes a Holiday. I mean--Fredric March as The Grim Reaper? I know Madden is an important experimental filmmaker with a high reputation and what films I've seen (Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary; The Saddest Music in the World; Archangel) reveal a cineliterate talent with a taste for silent film exuberance and, in the case of Dracula, the influence of Gerardo de Leon's The Blood Drinkers--but morbid romances are impossible to resist. Besides there's a cadaverous quality to March--his performance here suggesting an antediluvian theatrical style irretrievably lost--that makes him the perfect Death.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Zola (Janicza Bravo, 2020)

Girls gone wild

Talking about a film starring two strong women seeking to liberate themselves from the manipulation of men, a tale full of betrayals and reversals and bruisingly intense grappling between these women and the men they encounter along the way.  

No not Black Widow--I mean Janicza Bravo's Zola which I figure is at least as thrilling and considerably funnier. The film arguably the first of its kind is based on a tweetstorm by one Aziah 'Zola' King back in 2015 that ended up being followed by Ava DuVernay, Missy Elliott, Solange Knowles, and some 108,000 others.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

In the Heights (Jon M. Chu, 2021)

For your Heights only

Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights which he started working on in college and managed to stage on Broadway some nine years later has finally made it to the big screen. It's handsomely produced with a $55 million budget, shot on location in Washington Heights, and features a strikingly handsome cast of mostly young actors and a handful of recognizable veteran talents.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

The state of Philippine Cinema (from Cahiers' L'Atlas du Cinema 2004)

(I forgot I even wrote this--my brief contribution on the state of Philippine cinema to Cahier's L'Atlas du Cinema 2004)

Miracle in Manila

Several elements caused 2003 to be a poor year in Philippine cinema, continuing a trend that started years back. President Joseph Estrada, a former actor, was loyal to the local industry and allowed it to flourish a little, but his management of the national government was so confused and corrupt that he was overthrown by a popular revolt in 2001. His successor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was far less sympathetic, the eventual result of which was that film production rate hit a plateau, and began to recede. With presidential elections coming this May 2004, and a new actor, Fernando Poe Jr., again aspiring to the presidency (and, according to polls, has a good chance of winning) the local industry might receive better treatment but, paradoxically, the rest of the country fears the possibility of further chaos.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Moral (Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 1982)


(Available on iTunes and KTX.PH

(Warning: narrative and plot twists discussed in explicit detail)

Marilou Diaz-Abaya's Moral (1982) bends stereotypes from the start, beginning where most romantic comedies end, with a marriage. Maritess (Anna Marin) is in the process of being wedded to (welded to?) Dodo (Ronald Bregendahl) when Joey (Lorna Tolentino) stumbles late into the church, fumbles her way to a seat, giggles at inappropriate moments; Kathy (Gina Alajar) sings a heartfelt song but--isn't she off-key? When the ceremonies end it's not bride and groom running out from under a shower of flung rice but bride and friend and friend and friend--Maritess and Joey and Kathy and Sylvia (Sandy Andolong) linked arm to arm, camera retreating before them as they march into the world.  

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Trese (animated TV series)

Super natural

Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo's supernatural horror comic Trese (Thirteen) has finally been realized on the small screen and by Netflix no less--which is a bit of a mixed blessing.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The good of 2002

The good of 2002

One of my New Year's resolution is to start on a positive note, and as much as possible mention only the good of last year, so this may be a short article. Let's see how it goes--

Thursday, June 03, 2021

Ishmael Bernal, a partial retrospective

Call Him Ishmael

THERE IS A SCENE IN MANILA BY NIGHT, where Charito Solis' Virgie confronts William Martinez's Alex about his drugtaking. What follows is a storm of maternal fury, unmatched by any other in an already turbulent film. She slaps him mauls him rains blows on his back and head; she throws things--knickknacks, heavy objects, anything and everything detachable and ready at hand. In glorious slow motion, she smashes a drawer on his skull, wood splinters flying like exploded shrapnel. The scene feels like it has gone too long; you're reminded of a Buster Keaton film where everything is flying around in a tornado and Keaton is the still, rooted center in the storm. Manila has pushed past the point of drama to absurdity, is well on its way past absurdity into a kind of comic horror.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Insiang (Chris Millado, 2002, stage adaptation)

comes home

Insiang is arguably Lino Brocka's masterpiece, an intimate three-character chamber drama (Tonya (Mona Lisa); her lover Dado (Ruel Vernal); her daughter Insiang (Hilda Koronel)) that slips under the skin like a hunting knife, slicing away fatty illusion and crusted complacency. It's a vision of the Tondo community, of little plywood shanties jammed together and trembling under the shadow of a mountain of garbage.

The film was Brocka's first to be shown internationally, was the first Filipino film to go to the Cannes Film Festival, to be screened at the prestigious Director's Fortnight. Audiences and critics alike sat up and took notice when Brocka made Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang" (You Were Weighed and Found Wanting, 1974); they applauded Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon) in 1975. Insiang confirmed what Filipinos already knew--that Brocka was not just one of the best filmmakers in the country but in the world.

What few remember or even realize was that before Insiang was a film it was a script by Mario O'Hara, written for an episode of the drama series Hilda, in 1973. A few years later Brocka was pitching projects to neophyte producer Ruby Tiong Tan (one of his proposals: an adaptation of Agapito Joaquin's one-act play Bubungang Lata (Tin Roof), which O'Hara turned into a film in 1998); Ms. Tan agreed to Insiang. O'Hara wasn't available to adapt his teleplay (he was directing his second feature, the epic Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (Three Years Without God, 1976)), so Lamberto Antonio stepped up instead (according to O'Hara there are few changes). The film was shot on location in fourteen days, on a budget of P600,000 (roughly three million today).

It's now 2002, and Tanghalang Pilipino has chosen for its 16th season to adapt Insiang on the theater stage; the question on everyone's mind--certainly on mine--is "Why?" The film is arguably the definitive example of Filipino social-realism--why remake a near-perfect work? In terms of structure, of sustained dramatic tension, of economy of means achieving maximum effect, the film stands above almost any other Filipino films (only one other approaches its elegance and intensity I think--Mike de Leon's Kisapmata (Blink of an Eye, 1982)).

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Soldier (Paul WS Anderson, 1998)

Toy Soldier

The wittiest conceit in Soldier is that each trained-from-birth bred-in-the-bone infantryman is literally a item in a collector’s set. Director Paul Anderson plays on this idea in the shot where you see Todd (Kurt Russell sporting a crewcut) sitting alone on his bunk; the camera shifts position and only then do you see the long row of exactly identical men sitting in exactly identical bunks behind him. When these robotlike men (manlike robots?) are confronted by a platoon of new and improved soldiers (unlike Todd and company these newer models are genetically engineered), they eye each other, silently sizing each other up. Their superior officers proudly show them off and then, like wanton boys, pit one against another in a series of pointlessly brutal tests. Obsolete Todd loses and is tossed in the garbage bin; victorious Kane (a shaven-pate Jason Scott Lee) is reprimanded for allowing the loser to rip a good-sized new one round his eye socket.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Lingua Franca (Isabel Sandoval, 2019)


Isabel Sandoval's achievement in Lingua Franca I submit isn't so much the breaking of boundaries or the allusion to current events (transgendered-directed film on transgendered relationships, and the perils of undocumented immigrants) but her plainspoken way of creating a mood, a feeling, the ambiance of an eerily depopulated subtly menacing New York just this much more hostile to the marginalized.

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Johnny Tinoso and the Proud Beauty (Mario O'Hara, 1993)

A Letter to Mr. Nestor Torre

Dear Mr. Torre;

After reading your choices for best picture in the Metro Manila Filmfest, I would like to offer as candidate a film that almost entered and was almost shown during 1993; a film that, if it had been released, I believe would have been the finest in the festival: Johnny Tinoso and the Proud Beauty.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Aladin; In Despair; Hantik; Lupang Pangako; Senorito

Notes on a few LVN Films

Dona Sisang was the rare studio chief who 1) was a woman and 2) ran a commercially and artistically successful film studio as if condition #1 was irrelevant. Comedies, dramas, period epics, fantasies--her studio and stable of talents produced year after year, entertained millions with each title, made money in the bargain. She was reluctant to fund prestige dramas but found herself doing so (Badjao and Anak Dalita being the more noted examples), insisting on a touch of Filipino culture (the awit; the corrida; the folk dance) along the way. Anak failed at the boxoffice but won an armful of awards; Dona Sisang was unimpressed, asking if said awards could ever feed anyone. That said, she continued to make the occasional serious project, including Malvarosa, Kundiman ng Lahi, and Biyaya ng Lupa

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Soltero (Pio De Castro, 1984)

Only the lonely

Confess to being biased against Pio de Castro lll's Soltero ever since I heard the premise. A Filipino film about loneliness? Filipinos are some of the most gregarious people in the world--the warmest, friendliest, most hospitable; the (darker side) fondest of gossip, of backbiting, of mob rule. Filipinos, I'd have said, are the least likely to know loneliness, particularly on the big screen; most Philippine cinema depict teeming slums full of corrugated shacks crammed with squatters. Filipinos know the despair of overcrowding, not loneliness.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Mission Impossible (1996)

Movie Impossible

(FADE IN THEME MUSIC: Two For The Road. NOEL VERA and JOEL VERA are seated, facing each other. CAMERA TRACKS CLOSE TO NOEL).

NOEL: Welcome to the pilot episode of our show Two Thumbs Sucked, the only show on TV with identical twins for film critics. Our movie tonight is Mission Impossible, a Tom Cruise action flick produced by the star himself, the first time ever The Cruise Missile tried his hand at film production.

The anxiety shows. Cruise has packed the film to the eyeballs with special effects, narrative twists, neat technological toys, and enough digitally-enhanced explosions to satisfy the Unibomber. He’s gotten Brian De Palma to direct, Emanuelle Beart to pose pretty--but not nude--and Danny Elfman to do variations on the original Lalo Schifrin theme music. (CUT TO:)

JOEL: The Lalo Schifrin music! (ENTER MISSION IMPOSSIBLE THEME) Worth the price of admission. The movie delivers on thrills, accelerating and decelerating your heartbeat like a maestro (MUSIC FADES). When it’s over though, feels like you just saw the trailer. I was left wondering if there was an actual movie.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Martial Law Melodrama: Lino Brocka's Cinema Politics

A dirty affair

Lino Brocka is easily the best-known of the '70s generation of Filipino filmmakers, arguably the best-known Filipino filmmaker in the world. He has directed both popular and political melodramas, sometimes a mix of both; his films have screened in Cannes and won awards; his two most acclaimed works--Insiang (a young girl, her mother, and her mother's boyfriend struggle to survive in the slums of Tondo), and Manila in the Claws of Neon (Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, a provincial fisherman wanders the eponymous city in search of his lost love))--were released by Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Project through the Criterion Collection.

That said, there's not a lot of text dedicated to the filmmaker. Mention in books on Philippine cinema (including film scholar Jose B. Capino's Dream Factories of a Former Colony: American Fantasies, Philippine Cinema); his own entry in the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Encyclopedia of Philippine Art; a compilation of articles edited by critic Mario Hernando--that's about it.

Finally, to this small collection, we can add Jose B. Capino's Martial Law Melodrama: Lino Brocka's Cinema Politics (University of California Press; 328 pages; published 1.7.20; $72 hardcover, $24.75 paperback) which takes fifteen of Brocka's films and breaks them apart, considers them in context of social and political trends, and in the context of Brocka's life and career. And while it focuses on one filmmaker--Brocka--as he works through a tumultuous period of both Philippine history and cinema--the martial law era of the '70s up to early '80s--a case can be made that Brocka was Filipino cinema's response (or resistance) to deposed president Ferdinand E. Marcos' authoritarian regime.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Best Films 2000

The best and the rest 2000

Been a strange year; can’t say great films have come out (other than in retrospectives) yet can’t really complain…and partly it’s because of the surprisingly strong showing of Filipino films this year. A quick round-up, then, of the year two triple-zero:

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Federico Fellini's '8 1/2' (1963), Mario O'Hara's 'Babae sa Bubungang Lata' (Woman on a Tin Roof, 1998)

Through the looking glass

(Plotlines of both 8 1/2 and Woman on a Tin Roof discussed in detail)

Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963) is one of the most gorgeous black-and-white films ever made not to mention one of the most influential: it has inspired at least one terribly expensive (and terrible, period) musical (Rob Marshall's Nine), one great dance musical (Bob Fosse's All That Jazz), a royal flush of filmmakers (Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, David Lynch among many many others). If I admire it I admire it for the way the camera--like its protagonist filmmaker Guido--dances nimbly past all the men and women in his (its) life attempting to lay claim to his (its) attention. It's a heady swirl of delicate Prosecco and robust Chianti--of the enigmatic and intimate, the personal and metaphysical.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Kurosawa Kiyoshi: Three Films (Cure, Charisma, License to Live)

Zen and the art of horror filmmaking

The runaway success of Hideo Nakata's Ringu (Ring, 1998) in Manila shows there's an audience for stylish horror out there--the film has been frightening audiences since December, easily outgrossing the poorly made (if more expensive) American remake, with a sequel poised to scare up even more money. Now that we've proven we can appreciate more sophisticated terrors, are we ready for something a little more...well, disturbing?

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Best Filipino Films of 1999

The best and the rest of Filipino films, 1999

It was the best of times it was the worst of times. Depending on whom you talked to it was either the worst year in local film history or the year we saw one of the best Filipino films ever made.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (Lamberto Avellana, 1965)

A thousand words

Confession: when I saw Lamberto Avellana's revered film adaptation of Nick Joaquin's classic play Portrait of the Artist as Filipino some mumble mumble years ago I wasn't thrilled. It was an adaptation of a stage play that at first glance looked unapologetically stagy, complete with well-timed entrances and exits, and its actors spoke a Spanish-accented English I'd never heard in a Filipino film before. It was filmed in an understated style, and after the sharp angles and looming closeups and deep shadows of Gerry de Leon's Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo felt like a step backwards, a middlebrow work of art.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

A Silent Voice (Naoko Yamada, 2016)

Deaf note

(by Alex Vera and Noel Vera)

Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice is about bullying the disabled, in this case a boy named Shoya bullying a deaf girl named Shoko, a practice few people have heard of outside Japan. Officially laws prohibit it, unofficially it’s an open secret; Yoshitoki Ooima’s original manga experienced immediate blowback--apparently this is dirty laundry people didn’t want aired. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Best and the rest of 2020

Best and the rest 2020

Yeah yeah yeah

Sick of essays mourning the disaster that was last year? Same.

Let's get with it.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Fan Girl (Antoinette Jadaone, 2020)

Fan service

Antoinette Jadaone's Fan Girl is a sneaky little comedy that starts off with a storyline planted firmly within familiar Jadaone territory (the constantly permeable membrane between showbiz fantasy and everyday reality a la Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay; the sad-funny interchanges that motor romantic comedies a la This Thing Called Tadhana). Jane (Charlie Dizon), who describes herself as real-life celebrity Paulo Avelino's 'number one fan,' skips afternoon class to attend a mall event promoting the star's latest movie; she manages to climb into the back of Paulo's pickup truck just as he drives away.