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

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Bakit Bughaw ang Langit? (Why is the Sky Blue?, Mario O'Hara, 1981)

The court of public opinion

Mario O'Hara's Bakit Bughaw ang Langit? (Why is the Sky Blue? 1981) opens by way of introduction with panoramic views of Manila. We see Babette Gomez (Nora Aunor) and her family arrive at an apartment complex; movers unload the truckload of furniture carry it into their newly rented apartment. O'Hara's camera watches as the family settles in, and we come to know each member--imperious Sofia (Anita Linda) loudly presiding over the entire operation; sullen Nardo (Mario Escudero) carrying out his wife's orders; beautiful Lorie who barks like her mother, but at a lesser volume; quiet Babette--their other daughter--skittering about doing much of the heavy lifting along with the movers.

We meet the neighbors: Marta (Melly Mallari), owner of the "sari-sari" (grocery) store at the complex entrance; Cora (Alicia Alonzo) and her unemployed husband Domeng (Rene Hawkins); Luring (Metring David) with a sideline business selling clothes, and her son Bobby (Dennis Roldan). Only courtly old Mang Jesus (Carpi Asturias) seems to notice Babette's plight; they talk about the tiny cacti she's raising, and she notes (without any trace of irony) that they flourish on very little care and water. Later, Luring offers Sofia some clothes, and her life's story--she's raising Bobby on her own, she needs to watch him all the time because he can't care for or defend himself (he's a young adult with the mind of a child) and she can't go out to earn a living. Sofia has a proposal: instead of paying for the clothes, maybe Babette can visit and feed Bobby while Luring is gone.

And so Babette finds herself with a plate of food at Luring's door looking in (you think of girls in fairy tales peering into a deep dark den, wondering at the silence). She finds Bobby upstairs, chained, sets the food before him; he sits hunched over the plate, eating with his fingers. Later, Babette asks Bobby for his basketball--to clean it, she explains; Bobby hands it over after some hesitation. For the first time in the film O'Hara cuts to a closeup--of Babette's face then of Bobby's (before this the picture is all long and medium shots). They have somehow connected.

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.