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!


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

(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