Monday, December 26, 2022

Pinocchio (Guillermo del Toro, 2022)

Little wooden head

Guillermo del Toro's adaptation of the classic Carlo Collodi fantasy fits seamlessly into his gallery of monsters and freaks, but the changes he's wrought on this darker less sanitized work brings it closer to the Collodi original, places it in my book a notch above the 1940 Disney classic.

High claim, I know (and I like Disney's Pinocchio a lot). But hear me out--

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Avatar: The Way of the Water (James Cameron, 2022)


Waterlogged

The first Avatar was too long too loud too ludicrous with its bioluminescent creatures (try hide in a forest when you glow in the dark) and floating mountains (apparent side effect of implausibilium-- sorry, unobtainum); worst than the scientific howlers were the dramatic ones, like yet another white savior come to lead the natives out of oppression (T.E. Lawrence, Paul Muad'Dib, Indie Jones, meet Jake from State Farm sorry Corporal Jake Sully, USMC). Cameron has the mindset of a true obsessive, able to blow hundreds of millions of dollars to create intricately realized worlds, but his skill at characterization and realistic human interaction remains at toon level. Some thirteen years later Cameron has re-emerged with not just one but three proposed sequels and one wants to ask: what makes him think we needed another nine hours of what we didn't want in the first place?

Monday, December 12, 2022

The Fabelmans (Steven Spielberg, 2022), Armageddon Time (James Gray, 2022)


Meet the Fabels

Arguably Steven Spielberg doesn't need to do an autobiographical film, he's been doing them all his life-- Sugarland Express features a mother as driven force of nature, Jaws includes the subplot of ship's captain bullying nerdy scientist, Close Encounters of the Third Kind follows a man so obsessed with his quest he abandons his family, ET described a lonely child with head crammed full of dreams, and as it turns out Duel and 1941 (knew it!) allude to one of his most formative traumas-- the massive car-and-train collision in The Greatest Show on Earth, which he saw as a child. That said Spielberg at this point in his career insists on an autobiographical feature-- a direct one this time-- hence The Fabelmans

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Sight and Sound's Greatest Films of All Time -- my list


Sight and Sounds' The Greatest Films of All Time-- my list

Chimes at Midnight (Campanadas a medianoche, 1965) 

Orson Welles' Shakespearean tragedy-- fashioned around the Bard's most famous comic relief!-- tells of an old man with old-world lusts and loves who resists the newer world of ascetic appetites and steely fascism. It's also a retelling of Welles' own story with his father, a figure of Falstaffian proportions, who loved not wisely but too well. 

The Cloud-Capped Star (Meghe Dhaka Tara, 1960)

The crack of a whip in Ritwik Ghatak's most famous work says it all: Neeta (Supriya Choudhury) must support her family, flog her another mile! One of the most unforgettable portraits of female oppression on film, made more memorable by the fact that when she finally cries out-- in defiance of society and in defiance of her own expectations as the melodrama's martyr heroine-- it's too late.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Itim (The Rites of May, Mike de Leon, 1976)


Haunted

Mike de Leon's scarily assured debut Itim (The Rites of May, 1976) is about the ache of memory, the weight of religious faith, the slow poison of male entitlement in a patriarchy. Naturally, it's a ghost story. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Mike De Leon






The thin line between genius and sanity

Easy to call Mike de Leon one of the greatest if not the greatest Filipino filmmaker; he's done only a handful of films (nine features and three shorts), but every one displays an amazingly high level of technical proficiency. In terms of sound design, cinematography, and editing, his films sound and look and flow better than almost any other; it may be argued that De Leon has never made a bad film-- that his batting average runs a near-perfect 95 or even 100%.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Ibong Adarna (The Adarna Bird, Manuel Conde and Vicente Salumbides, 1941)


Songbird

What Filipino hasn't heard of the Ibong Adarna, the magical bird whose sweet singing puts the unwary listener to sleep and whose droppings turn said listener into stone? Narcisa 'Dona Sisang' de Leon (grandmother of filmmaker Mike de Leon) certainly did, and knew just how much Filipinos loved the story-- so much so that she was willing to risk money on a lavish (for Filipinos anyway) film adaptation. She was right too-- the production was a hit, the first Filipino film to gross over a million pesos. 

Thursday, November 03, 2022

Filipino horrors: Bahay na Pula (Red House), Matangtubig (Town in a Lake), Ma, Pagbabalat ng Ahas (Reptilia in Suburbia)


Cabinet of charcuteries

For my latest podcast (thanks to Karl Kaefer of Deviant Legion Network) I had to bone up on the best and the rest of recent Filipino horror. Could not catch everything, but what I did catch-- 

Monday, October 24, 2022

Pearl (Ti West, 2022)



Before swine

(Warning: plot twists discussed in explicit detail)

Ti West's Pearl (2022) is several things at once: 1) a horror film; 2) a prequel; 3) a claustrophobic character sketch of two women percolating in a pressure-cooker setting. 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Halloween Ends (David Gordon Green, 2022


So long and thanks for all the flesh

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

Heard the feedback: Worse Halloween ever. Slow and boring. Where's Michael? Who's the new guy?-- and I agree. Worse Halloween ever, not much of a slasher film. 

But what it is as it turns out is a pretty interesting David Gordon Green film. 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Batang West Side (West Side Avenue, Lav Diaz, 2001)


Street child

Lav Diaz's Batang West Side (West Side Avenue, 2001), about the killing of a young Filipino-American and the murder investigation that follows, was at five hours the longest Filipino or Southeast Asian film ever made at the time. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2022

Blonde (Andrew Dominick, 2022)


Bombshell

Andrew Dominik's Blonde is a horror film that fails not because it's so sadistic but because it's not sadistic enough. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Ang Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo (The Python in the Old Dome, Gerardo de Leon, 1955)


Phallic symbol

Gerardo de Leon's Ang Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo tells the story of an outsized man: Tulume (Jose Padilla Jr.), former farmer turned bandit when the Spanish Guardia Civil (Civil Guards) kill his wife (this during the years of Spanish rule). Now he's leader of his own gang, with a bounty of thousands on his head.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Kapag Wala Nang Mga Alon (When the Waves are Gone, Lav Diaz, 2022)


Vengeance is mined

Lav Diaz's Kapag Wala Nang Mga Alon (When the Waves are Gone) premiered out-of-competition at the 2022 Venice Film Festival to muted if appreciative applause. If the acclaim isn't as loud, that may be because the film isn't as epically proportioned as A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery or as politically incendiary as The Halt or Season of the Devil. What it is tho is Alexander Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo told only as Diaz can: leisurely paced, crudely recorded (on severely monochrome Kodak 16 mm), with absolutely no music whatsoever (all onscreen singing or dancing performed a capella).

And it's a revenge story.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Three Thousand Years of Longing (George Miller, 2022)















I dream of Djinnie

George Miller's Three Thousand Years of Longing isn't exactly an action extravaganza like Mad Max: Fury Road-- but then Miller isn't exactly an action filmmaker, or isn't only an action filmmaker. He's done medical dramas (Lorenzo's Oil), children's films (Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet), bizarre literary adaptations (The Witches of Eastwick); he's done arguably the best episode of The Twilight Zone ever filmed (a remake of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"). His forays into fantasy and horror are at least as interesting for the distinct ways they handle special effects (Babe: Pig in the City looks and feels like Maurice Sendak high on mushrooms) as for what they have to say (the fantasy and especially the horror genre being arguably better at addressing our anxieties than mere action flicks). 

Thursday, September 08, 2022

House of the Dragon and Rings of Power (HBO Max and Amazon series)


Rings and dragons

First two episodes of Rings of Power and it's like I'm back-- back to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, back to Middle Earth and Sauron and elves and dwarves and Hobbits (Harfoots here), to the books I read in high school, again in college, a third time this past few years. 

How do I feel? Ugh. 

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Memories of a Love Story (Joselito Altarejos, 2022)


View master

Early in Joselito Altarejos' Memories of a Love Story Eric (Oliver Aquino) and Jericho (Migs Almendras) lock gazes, and you hear a k-tchak! as the camera cuts to flashback. Annoying sound, but gradually you realize what Altarejos is trying to evoke: the clack of a View-Master stereopticon shifting from one photograph to the next, offering you-- in three-dimensional imagery, no less-- a glimpse into a brightly colored forever frozen past. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

12 Weeks (Anna Isabelle Matutina, 2022)


Three months

Anna Isabelle Matutina's debut feature 12 Weeks is powerful both for what it says and doesn't say. It's a laser-focused look at a woman (Max Eigenmann as Alice), firmly in charge of her life and career, suddenly blindsided by the fact that she's pregnant at 40-- what she feels, what she (implicitly) thinks, what she faces in terms of social and practical challenges in the Philippines, where abortion is illegal.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Isang Salaysay ng Karahasang Pilipino (a Tale of Filipino Violence, 2022)


Marcos, revisited

How many ways can Lav Diaz take on the Marcos dictatorship? As early as Batang West Side (West Side Avenue 2001) where a lead character admits to a dark relationship with the regime, the director has presented that period in Philippine history as a kind of collective trauma, a recurring nightmare we are all still struggling to awaken from. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

24/7 (The Sandman, Jamie Childs) Television


Diner time

So now we have it: a fairly big-budgeted adaptation of Neil Gaiman's celebrated fantasy series. Beautifully cast, ingeniously reworked, adequately directed.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Master and Commander (Peter Weir, 2003)


In the navy

Despite the rather dry title Master and Commander, Peter Weir's uncommonly good adaptation of Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey novels is anything but, a grandly outsized lovingly detailed and authentic (as far as my landlubber eyes can see) recreation of 19th century naval warfare, from the point of view of a single British warship.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Nope (Jordan Peele, 2022)


Gulp

("--Will this little piece keep key details and plot twists hidden from those who haven't seen the movie?" "Nope.")

--Is this latest picture Peele's funniest?

Nope.

--Is it his scariest?

Nope.

--Is it a bad movie?

Nope.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Thor: Love and Thunder (Taika Waititi, 2022)


Thud and blunder

Difficult to pin down Taika Waititi: he's talented and smart but apparently tone deaf, and his films keep missing the mark. Hunt for the Wilderpeople wants to be a shaggy dog story but isn't as funny as it thinks it is and the subplot of Hec (Sam Neill) being mistaken for a pedophile adds a sour note to an otherwise harmless comedy; What We Do in the Shadows is a fine conceit (vampires of different ages and races, some legendary, share an apartment) that doesn't seem to lead to much of anything other than a conscientious avoidance of cliches.

Thor: Ragnarok might be considered the spectacular introduction of Waititi's brand of whimsy and wayward storytelling to the otherwise flavorless assembly-line content of Marvel Studio, only I keep thinking of James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy movies and their brand of whimsy and wayward storytelling (Gunn's also had the better mixtape). Jojo Rabbit wants to be that rare comedy about Nazis, only I keep thinking of Volker Schlondorff's adaptation of Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum and how that was both funnier and more horrifying. I like Waititi's ambitions and his heart is in the right place, but so far he keeps fanning air. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Aviator (Martin Scorsese, 2004)


The exhilarator

The general line about Martin Scorsese is that he's sold out--gone mainstream, gone soft, used his edgy visual intelligence to make products generic enough and likable enough that he'll at last win that elusive Oscar.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

The Brothers Grimm (Terry Gilliam, 2005)


Double double toil and trouble

Terry Gilliam's The Brother's Grimm received poor notices from Manohla Dargis and Roger Ebert. The common complaint: the film's tone varies wildly, from lowbrow slapstick to fast-paced action to (occasionally) delicate fairy-tale horror, that the actors playing brothers (Matt Damon as Will, Heath Ledger as Jacob) have no idea whether they are heroes or buffoons. Which makes you wonder if critics remember Gilliam's work-- his pictures have always been a mess with one thing following another, chaotically. If you don't like what's happening onscreen, just wait--in a few minutes will be Something Completely Different.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)


The horror, the horror

Some random notes on the film (WARNING: plot twists and narrative discussed in explicit detail)

Saw The Shining on DVD-- remastered and restored, it says, but as far as I can see not letterboxed (apparently what Kubrick intended, for better or worse).

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Crimes of the Future (David Cronenberg, 2022


Porn to be wild

Always thought David Cronenberg had a gift for granting the people in his films at times obvious at times cheesy often memorable names-- Seth Brundle; Stathis Borans; Murray Cypher; Nola Carveth; Max Renn; Brian O'Blivion. Even his more realistic films (A History of Violence) feature the odd evocative moniker-- Tom Stall-- and he continues to indulge the quirk in his latest Crimes of the Future: Saul Tenser (has Cronenberg read The Demolished Man?); Detective Cope; Investigator Wippet; Caprice.

O and don't let the marketing campaign mislead you: this isn't Cronenberg's long-awaited return to full-on body horror but his sexiest funniest film to date.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)


The dispossessed

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

Watching Andrez Zulawski's Possession (1981) again I was struck not so much by the violence and bodily fluids being flung about as I was by the feelings being wielded like so much casual cutlery. When it comes to extreme horror the film has been sadly left behind by more recent arthouse efforts such as Lars Von Trier's Antichrist or (for sheer masochistic suffering) Pascal Laugier's Martyrs-- 'sadly' not because this film should stay top of the heap but because the genre has chosen to go in this rather fruitless direction, to the point of numbness.

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Pila Balde (Fetch a Pail of Water, Jeffrey Jeturian,1999)

Slum dunk

Last year there was a small yet significant spurt of worthwhile Filipino films. The mini-renaissance began in earnest (though many would disagree with me) with Tikoy Aguiluz’s Tatsulok, in 1998; it came into full bloom with the Good Harvest Festival, which featured no less than four exciting new films.

There was Ed Leano’s fizzily entertaining Sabado Ng Gabi, Linggo Ng Umaga. (Saturday Night, Sunday Morning-- and yes the title does sound like the Tagalog translation of a well-known film, not the first time it's happened); Jeffrey Jeturian’s solidly constructed  Sana Pag-Ibig Na (rough translation: If Only Love), script by Armando Lao; Lav Diaz’s flawed but brilliant Kriminal ng Baryo Concepcion. (Criminal of Barrio Concepcion); Mario O’Hara's inspired Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman on a Tin Roof) and insanely imaginative Sisa.

Then nothing. Not a peep, though there were bigger, more ambitious productions: Joel Lamangan’s Sidhi was noteworthy for the performance of Nora Aunor and for Glydel Mercado’s surprisingly fine acting; Erik Matti’s Scorpio Nights 2 showed a talented young director struggling with an incoherent script. Otherwise, silence-- the local film industry, after displaying much promise, slumbered for most of the first half of this year.

Pila Balde finally if belatedly fulfills that earlier promise. It’s another collaboration between Jeturian and the quietly formidable Armando Lao--who, judging from his last two scripts and the amazing Takaw Tukso back in 1986, has to be one of the most underrated screenwriters still active in this industry.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Biyaheng Langit (Paradise Express, Tikoy Aguiluz, 2000)

All or nothing

Tikoy Aguiluz, who illuminated the world of toreros in Boatman, painted a portrait of the GRO girl in Segurista (Dead Sure), explores Manila's gambling casinos and railway communities in Biyaheng Langit.

The film was given an X rating twice by the Movie Television and Classification Board (MTRCB) for its frank sex and explicit violence, both of which have been described as “gratuitous.” Wouldn't know what “gratuitous” sex and violence looks like myself, but I do feel that if Aguiluz is to portray the heaven and hell of modern Philippine society with any sense of realism, he has to be free to show what  needs to be shown. Also don’t believe in giving an X rating to any film, especially when this prevents the film’s commercial screening; it suggests the rather insulting idea that there are some images or subjects the adult Filipino can’t handle.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Sam Raimi, 2022)


Across the universe

O look a Dr. Strange sequel! (don't remember the first one)

A new Benedict Cumberbatch! (he was better in The Power of the Dog)

A new Marvel superproduction! (as if that was a recommendation)

A new Sam Raimi!

Well--

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, 1926)


Silhouette romance

A few weeks ago with little advance publicity, the Goethe Institute arranged the screening of Lotte Reiniger's films for two weeks-- free-- at the Metropolitan Museum, in Roxas Boulevard. Think of the best of Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies and his feature masterpiece (Fantasia, says many, Pinocchio says I*) being shown regularly for ten succeeding days without charge, and you won't even come close to suggesting the cinematic riches made available to us, almost without our knowing (I barely managed to catch the last screening myself). Hopefully they will allow one more screening, at the Goethe Institute in Aurora Boulevard.

*(Nowadays I'd say Sleeping Beauty)

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Bagong Hari (The New King, Mario O'Hara, 1986)


King of pain

Mario O'Hara's Bagong Hari (The New King) was released in early 1986, a singular moment in Philippine history. It was produced and released during the final days of the Marcos regime, when the dictator's hold on things was seriously weakened (though few realized just how much), and the level of ferment was at an unprecedented high-- was at a level not seen since Marcos declared Martial Law fourteen years before. It was also-- though few knew it then-- the final days of what we might call the '70s and '80s golden age of Philippine cinema, a period that I believe started with Lino Brocka's Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged But Found Wanting, 1974) and continued past the end of the decade with Kisapmata (Blink of an Eye, 1981) and Himala (Miracle, 1982).

The 1983 assassination of Marcos' political opponent Ninoy Aquino threw the economy into chaos and brought anti-Marcos sentiment out in the open, long-simmering emotions the dictator struggled to staunch but never managed to stop. Partly as a result of his troubles, partly as a way to appease people bread-and-circus style (at the same time appearing more liberal) Marcos eased censorship restrictions. Films containing scenes of graphic sex and violence bloomed; people felt it was a sign of the times-- end of the world for all they knew-- and profound change was imminent, maybe desirable.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Last and First Men (Johann Johannsson, 2020)


Last Man
standing

(Warning: plot discussed in explicit and leisurely detail)

I remember reading Olaf Stapledon's novel when much younger, fascinated not so much by the sweep and ambition of the book-- a history spanning two billion years into the future, through eighteen species of man-- as by its wide-ranging intricacy. Easy enough to depict great height in a film or painting: just imagine a level spot to stand on, and an edge. The real challenge is in selling that distance, include enough detail to convince the viewer that he really is standing atop a dizzying height looking down, and that those little cotton balls crawling slowly past one's toes really are clouds. Stapledon does this with seeming ease, his deceptively simple prose a crystalline lens focused on passing strange worlds and bizarre civilizations, pulling back to take in ever larger scales till one is viewing the universe itself. 

Not sure why Johann Johannsson thought Stapledon was appropriate material* for his first and last feature film (the composer died in 2018) but the score fits surprisingly well with the screenplay-- Johannsson's incantatory music weaving an auditory spell around the massive stone blocks of former Yugoslavia's now-neglected World War ll battle memorials

Thursday, April 28, 2022

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982, Steven Spielberg)


Phoning home twenty years later

Steven Spielberg’s ET: The Extraterrestrial begins with a vast forest at night: with shadows, rustling leaves, slow tracking shots, and John Williams’ eerily atmospheric music--or so you think, until you realize that it’s really Bernard Herrmann’s opening theme to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (but never mind; call it a tribute). There is an alien ship, and creatures milling about the ship. One strays a little further than the others, is fascinated by a glimpse of city lights; we’re fascinated with his fascination. The passage reminds you of some of the better sequences in Disney movies, the way they combine imagery and music to create a twilight world filled with hidden delights. Never mind if the “hidden delight” is merely the hillside view of a California suburb--Spielberg presents it to us, and to the creature, as if someone had scattered a fistful of jewels across a tabletop.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Apollo 10 1/2 (Richard LInklater, 2022)


Destination moon

(Warning: plot and finale discussed in explicit detail)

Richard Linklater's Apollo 10 1/2 is the director's take on the moon landing, which for him isn't just a passion project or historic event to dramatize but his childhood, literally. Maybe one of the funnier moments in the film is when Stan (Milo Coy as the youth, Jack Black as the reminiscing adult) cites all the ways the space race has permeated everyday life: not just car dealership discounts ("the closer they get to the moon the lower our prices are!"), but a rocket slide (which were everywhere-- I remember one at Burnham Park in Baguio City that got rustier and rustier year after year), multimilliondollar space epics (Destination Moon on TV, 2001: A Space Odyssey on a really big screen), the nearby Astrodome (complete with Astroturf), and almost daily bombardments of the Apollo program's progress in beating the Soviets to the moon.

The film has a plot, of sorts: Stan has been approached by government agents to participate in an improvised space program where they try out all the equipment meant for Apollo astronauts on him first, because the LM (lunar module to you non-space geeks) had accidentally been built too small for an adult.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Last Temptation of Christ (Martin Scorsese, 1988)


Mean streets

Call The Last Temptation of Christ my favorite Martin Scorsese film-- not perhaps his best or most ambitious, just my favorite. Grew up Catholic, saw many of the classic Jesus movies, liked most of them with little contextual knowledge or sense of discernment. By '88 I'd seen and enjoyed Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, King of Comedy, After Hours; the idea of Scorsese tackling the life of Jesus-- knowing he wasn't shy about using Catholic imagery, or about putting personal beliefs and feelings about his faith on the big screen-- seemed like an especially interesting idea.

That was the theory; in practice I arrived at the movie theater with a picket line blocking the entranceway, folks waving signs like 'SCORSESE PRINCE OF LIES' and 'LEW WASSERMAN CAUSING JEW HATE' (Wasserman was chairman of MCA, Universal Studio's parent company). "Would you like to know the real story of Christ?" a cleancut young man in a necktie asked me, waving a bible. "I read it," I told him, stepping into the theater. 

Friday, April 08, 2022

Pyaasa (Thirst, Guru Dutt, 1957)


Messiah complex

Film critic Pauline Kael once said: "Ray is the only Indian director; he is as yet, in a class by himself." She adds: "The Indian film industry is so throughly corrupt that Ray could start fresh, as if it did not exist." 

A startling statement, if one considers fellow Bengalis Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen; or more classical filmmakers like Bimal Roy, Raj Kapoor, Mehboob Khan, Guru Dutt; or (more recently) Mani Ratnam, Shekar Kapur, Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishna-- I could go on. Yes Indian cinema may be corrupt (but what cinema isn't?); it's also a treasure cave of jewels, of a variety and beauty Kael can't possibly imagine.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

La Vida Rosa (The Life of Rosa, Chito Rono, 2001)

Everything coming up roses

Hollywood's on hold at the moment, trying to retool its production line to create gentler more sensitive films, with nary a mention of the words 'bomb,' 'terrorist' or 'World Trade Center.' The cineplexes have been forced to keep movies playing three, four weeks at a time, for want of anything new to show-- I've been seeing the ads for Bridget Jones' Diary and The Princess Diaries practically forever, though I haven't been able to (and possibly never will) see them.

Enter by sheer blind luck (I hardly call it design) Chito Rono's La Vida Rosa (The Life of Rosa), a noir crime thriller about con artist Rosa (Rosanna Roces) and her lockpicking boyfriend Dado (Diether Ocampo). Rosa and Dado keep half a dozen schemes juggling in the air, anything from carnapping to blackmail to stealing gifts from a wedding reception; their main source of income, however, are the smuggling and housebreaking operations led by Tsong, a crime boss, and his right-hand man Lupo (Pen Medina). Dado and Rosa have a love-hate relationship with Tsong: they depend on him for jobs and protection, yet at the same time feel an irresistible need to 'sideline'-- commit freelance crimes-- behind his back.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

The Batman (Matt Reeves, 2022)

Batman returns

Dear diary

6:10 PM

Fear is a tool. When light hits the screen it's not just the movie's start, it's a warning. Only who's being warned-- the bad guys on the big screen or us sitting here? Maybe you, reading this? Confused now. 

Sat down down to watch Matt Reeves' The Batman. A hundred and seventy-six minutes to go.

Need I remind you? NARRATIVE AND PLOT TWISTS TO BE DISCUSSED IN EXPLICIT DETAIL.

Moving on. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005)

The dark knight deflates

Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins is a lot like the car featured so prominently in the trailers: muscular, oversized, not particularly imaginative (it's been called "a Humvee on steroids"-- basically Arnold Schwarzenegger on four wheels).

The movie borrows heavily from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One so heavily it's possible to call this an adaptation of Miller. I'd say it's the best to date, Robert Rodriguez's Sin City notwithstanding, which in my book is faint praise: judging from his printwork (the abovementioned plus his best-known The Dark Knight Returns) Miller's is a rather narrowly focused sensibility, bleak romanticism draped with exaggerated noir. If I prefer Nolan's picture over Rodriguez's that's because Nolan isn't as faithful; as an adaptation, Sin City is perfect-- black and white, louder than life, dreary as hell.

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Written on the Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956)


Scribbled on the wind

(Warning: narrative discussed in explicit detail)

Film starts with pedal literally to the metal: Kyle Hadley (Robert Stack) hurtling across town past oil fields, sucking from a bottle as he swings his roadster round a sharp curve to roar up the Hadley Estate driveway.

As the Four Aces croon on the soundtrack we see the words 'Rock Hudson' fade onto the screen, right next to-- Rock Hudson. The words 'Lauren Bacall' appear as Bacall struggles to get up from bed (A hangover? A bad trip?); Stack climbs out of his car, pauses in mid-stagger to smash his bottle against the Hadley mansion ('Robert Stack'); Dorothy Malone poses perfectly framed by a window ('Dorothy Malone'). Sirk directed Bertolt Brecht's plays on the German stage; wonder if anyone has ever had as much fun applying Brecht to a film's opening credits.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Init sa Magdamag (Midnight Passion, Laurice Guillen, 1983) forty years later


Init sa Magdamag
, forty years later

(Restored version available on Vivamax.net. Details of plot discussed in explicit detail. )

The film starts wordlessly in a hotel suite, with Mr. Eleazar (Ding Salvador) humming "Bessame mucho" as he disrobes and Irene Trejon (Lorna Tolentino) sitting in her bubble bath. She hears a gasp and solid tonk! pulls the shower curtain aside, sees Mr. Eleazar on the floor, and the slow-pooling blood. 

Shock and dismay. Cut to a fully dressed Irene glancing back before leaving through a pair of sliding doors. The camera pauses to wander over the TV set, the furnishings, the bed with its immaculate dustcover (Why immaculate? Because they hadn't had the chance at sex), before returning to the gaping door, a lingering languorous shot that both opens and sums up the film: empty room, sordid scenario, camera following the departed woman into the dark-- into the depths, so to speak, of the woman's psyche.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003)


Return to sender

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King concludes what may be the single most massive production shoot in recent cinema, a $900-million, four-to-five-years-in-the-making, nine-hour-plus adaptation of the works of one shy Oxford don. With all those numbers, all the love and excitement generated by fans, all the hosannas heaped at its massive perfumed feet, one might feel churlish pointing out dents in the gleaming suit of armor. Still--