Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Departed (Martin Scorsese, 2006)

Evolution in action

I believe the worst charge one can level at Martin Scorsese for what he's done in The Departed (2006) is that he's made a mere genre flick-- albeit one tainted (if you like) with his obsessions on guilt, remorse, the need for redemption.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3

Curtain call

(Warning: plot discussed in explicit detail)

I remember Guardians of the Galaxy coming out of nowhere in 2014. James Gunn had been a writer for Troma, had directed the sneaky fun Slither in 2006, directed the comically grotesque Super in 2010; he then took up a band of little-known second-string comic-book superheroes and turned them into a constantly bickering megamillion multi-sequeled hit that changed the tone and approach of Marvel movies: from jokey but basically serious narratives featuring heroic Alan Silvestri scores to extended comic riffs strung together by an arbitrary narrative, featuring Gunn's personal selection of 70's and 60's cuts for that extra-personal nostalgia trip. If you smelled a faint herbal scent while watching in crowded auditoriums-- fun times, fun times.

Gunn's Vol. 2 was shakier but considerably more ambitious; Volume 3 might be called Gunn's farewell party to this particular extended universe, having made the decision to take charge of DC's (his first project being a Superman movie). Can lightning strike a third time? Well let me tell you.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (MIchel Gondry, 2004)

Brain wash

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is yet another product of eccentric enigmatic scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman's brain, a light-footed riff on love loss memory forgetting.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

The Tarnished Angels (Douglas Sirk, 1957)

Winging it

Douglas Sirk made this film not long after Written on the Wind, hoping lightning strikes twice, but no--the box-office was smaller, the critics less enthusiastic (took Jean-Luc Godard and the Cahiers crowd both waxing poetic to rehabilitate Sirk's reputation, from shameless hustler of glossy women's melodramas to ironic subverter of glossy women's melodramas). Where Wind was about the oil-rich Hadleys with their decadence on display in splashy Technicolor (the story a thinly veiled euphemism for the real-life scandal involving Zachary Smith Reynolds), Angels is about a family of airborne gypsies, eking out a life from barnstorming tours and dangerous airshow races during the Depression--grim, grimy black-and-white fare compared to the allure of the Hadleys.

And yet and yet and yet--Sirk considered Angels one of his best films; William Faulkner considered it the finest adaptation of his work ever (from the novel Pylon, one of the rare fictions set outside of his imagined Yoknapatawpha County). 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Sa North Diversion Road (On North Diversion Road, Dennis Marasigan, 2005)

Road trip

Never seen Tony Perez's Sa North Diversion Road (North Diversion Road) onstage, but easy to see why this is a perennial theater favorite, constantly being restaged: it's the story of ten couples, of different social classes, occupations, and temperaments, driving at different times down the same road, dealing with the man's infidelity to the woman. The metaphor is obvious--life's a long road taken by different people undergoing differing experiences, with different destinations along the way. The pleasure is in the execution, a dramatic tour de force for two.

Thursday, April 06, 2023

Sin City (Robert Rodriguez, 2005)

Thin City

Robert Rodriguez doing Frank Miller sounds like a match in heaven: Rodriguez's comic-book style should provide the speed and motion and visual depth to enhance Miller's images while Miller should add the twists and wisecracks to spark Rodriguez's sometimes shaky storytelling (Rodriguez as seen in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, often doesn't know how to drive a plot forward; he needs a fairly good writer, which is why I think From Dusk Till Dawn with longtime buddy Quentin Tarantino (clever writer not much of an eye) may be the best work either have ever done (there's Jackie Brown-- but that's an Elmore Leonard film which I hear involves Tarantino)).

Miller's Sin City 'graphic novels' (I remember when they used to be 'comic books') are black-and-white pastiches, the distillation of classic noirs where hardboiled detectives and/or borderline psychotics uphold complicated codes of honor, authority figures are absolutely powerful and absolutely corrupt, women are either whores or innocents endowed with pneumatically enlarged breasts. Perhaps the most notable feature of the novels is Miller's determined manner of turning up the volume on the sex and violence, particularly the violence (the sex mostly happens offscreen and is often remarkably chaste, given the milieu (one character goes on a killing spree after just a single night with a hooker; another goes to jail for years successfully defending the purity of a young girl)). Miller packs as many variations on killing as he can into his pages, using everything from a .45 caliber cannon to razor wire to a samurai sword; he puts a spin on violence through black comedy-- a mordant comment or ironic remark as exclamation point on someone's often bloodspattered passing. The savagery and humor plays against an austerely monochromatic background-- like looking at a blood-drenched world through armor-plated shades.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (Quentin Tarantino, 2004)

Vengeance is mined

With Kill Bill: Volume 2 Quentin Tarantino completes what for better or worse represents his vision for the new millennium-- a three-hour chick-takes-revenge flick with obscure allusions to martial arts movies, gunslinger movies, pulpy genre fare of all kinds. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Leonor Will Never Die (Martika Ramirez Escobar, 2022)

Leonor lives!

Leonor (Sheila Francisco) is a retired Filipina action filmmaker who nurses a script she dreams of directing, same day she receives a disconnection notice from the power company and her eldest Rudie (Bong Cabrera) schemes to work overseas but can't bring himself to tell mother. Humble junkyard welder Ronwaldo (Rocky Salumbides) watches in horror as his younger brother is falsely accused of drug dealing and gunned down (shades of Rodrigo Duterte's extrajudicial killings); Leonor is struck in the head by a stray television set (don't ask), suddenly finds herself inside Ronwaldo's increasingly hazardous storyline as he seeks his brother's killers. Meantime Rudie, staying by his unconscious mother's side, decides to produce his mother's unfinished script for the big screen--

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Kill Bill: Volume 1 (Quentin Tarantino, 2003)

Kill swill

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is about as basic as you can get-- The Bride (Uma Thurman) once upon a time badly beaten and shot in the head by people she once worked with and loved; falls into a coma, sleeps a couple of years, wakes up demanding payback, big time.

Thursday, March 09, 2023

Beneath the Cogon (Sa Ilalim ng Cogon, Rico Ilarde, 2005)

It's alive

(Beneath the Cogon is available streaming at Amazon Prime)

Horror gets little respect in the Philippines-- gets little respect anywhere-- but there's been good maybe even great work done.

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Thursday, February 23, 2023

The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)


Roman Polanski's The Pianist is surprising in more ways than one. You wouldn't think Polanski capable of filmmaking on this level anymore-- the kind of seemingly simple yet elegant visual storytelling that characterized major works like Rosemary's Baby or Chinatown (and was frustratingly evident in snatches of Frantic and The Ninth Gate). You wouldn't think Polanski capable of epic filmmaking of this scale either: the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the stretches of ruined city afterwards-- it's uncharacteristic of his work, the best of which stay at eye level and on intimate terms with their characters; they have an inwardness to them, a tendency to turn into solitary quests where the protagonist struggles against an inexplicable world bent on their destruction.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Cowboy Bebop (Shinichiro Watanabe, anime series 1998-1990)

Life is but a dream

(Story and plot twists discussed in explicit detail

Shinichiro Watanabe's Cowboy Bebop is I think a bit different from most anime out there ("I think" because anime has over thirty major genres, everything from horror to science fiction to fantasy to competitive Chinese cooking, and one makes a definitive statement at one's peril). Where most science-fiction action anime focus on a hero with a definite goal-- the destruction of an evil power, liberation of an oppressed society, or whatnot-- I can't think of an entire series devoted to the art of doing nothing, or at least as much of nothing as you possibly can.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

The Menu (Mark Mylod, 2022)

A dish to die for

The Menu at least for the first half is nasty fun, served up in high style by Mark Mylod, from an idea by Will Tracy.

The story-- of a handful of guests sitting down for what promises to be the meal of their life-- sounds like The Most Dangerous Game retold as an episode of Chef's Table, and one of the better jokes has David Gelb recreating his dish presentations from the aforementioned Netflix series: the soft glamour lighting, the matte-black background, the labels that fade into one corner of the screen with a succinct description of the dish. The guests take a ferry ride (during which they're presented an oyster bite) to the world-famous Hawthorn, located on a private island. They're given a tour, emphasizing the locally farmed and foraged nature of the kitchen's ingredients, and you recognize the restaurant being parodied, Renz Redzepi's Noma, oft considered the greatest restaurant in the world

Friday, February 03, 2023

Elephant (Gus Van Sant, 2003)

In the room

I can only guess Van Sant's thinking when he did Elephant: that there were all these docudramas and documentaries and news specials and articles trying to pin down the motives of the shooters, and the film is a response saying "there's no way to truly know." 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Ten Indian Musicals

Dutt's Entertainment: ten immortal Indian musicals

When most people think of Indian movies, they think of Bollywood, of men and women in colorful costumes, dancing and singing before elaborate sets; when more knowing people think of Indian movies they also think of Satyajit Ray and his brand of understated realism. The world's perception of Indian cinema remains fixed on a juxtaposition of these two extremes-- extravagant commercialism vs. austere arthouse. Film critic Pauline Kael didn't help matters when she said "Ray is the only Indian director; he is, as yet, in a class by himself...the Indian film industry is so thoroughly corrupt that Ray could start fresh, as if it did not exist..."

Which is an amazing statement, one she'd probably never have made if she knew better-- if, say, she had sampled the gritty neorealism of Bimal Roy's Bandini or Raj Kapoor's Awaara, the elemental power of Mehboob Khan's Mother India, the noirish gloom of Guru Dutt's Pyaasa. Indian cinema is a grand buffet of different styles and subcultures, from Bengali (not just Ray, but Ritwik Ghatak, and Mrinal Sen) to Bollywood; Ray didn't just come out of a vacuum but out of a teeming sea of productive filmmaking, most of which are wonderful musicals, some of which have a strong thread of realism and social commentary running through them that surely influenced him, and which he in turn influenced. Roy, Kapoor, Mehboob and Dutt among others made money and won large audiences; they worked in a strictly commercial format, but made films that were at the same time recognizably art.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Segurista (Dead Sure, Tikoy Aguiluz, 1996) twenty-six years later

Segurista twenty-six years later

My most vivid memory of Tikoy Aguiluz's erotic noir was of its censorship by the MTRCB-- the imposition of the feared Adults Only rating, effectively banning it from commercial movie theaters.