Saturday, December 09, 2023

The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki, 2013)


Skyward bound 

(Warning-- article discusses Miyazaki's film (and his manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind) in some detail, including plot twists and surprises. 

In short-- see the film (maybe read the manga) first)

Can't help but feel a sharp pang watching The Wind Rises (2013), knowing this to be Hayao Miyazaki's last feature; can't help but see this as a valedictory work, a summing up of his thoughts and feelings about art and aviation and everything else at this point in his life. 

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Godzilla Minus One (Takashi Yamazaki, 2023)


War Godzilla

Takashi Yamazaki's Godzilla Minus One is basically what you'd get if you made a Godzilla movie based on an actual script-- y'know, with a narrative arc populated by real characters having human interactions. Not a completely radical concept-- Ishiro Honda's Godzilla (1954) featured a love triangle between an embittered scientist, his fiancée, and a salvage ship captain-- but for perhaps the first time (or at least one of the rare times) since the original we have a storyline more compelling than just 'oversized radioactive reptile stomps Tokyo.' 

Monday, December 04, 2023

Silent Night (John Woo, 2023)

When you have to shoot shoot, don't talk 

John Woo's latest brings to mind Norma Desmond's immortal lines: "There was a time when I had the eyes of the whole world. But that wasn't good enough for them O no-- they had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk talk talk...

"You'll make a rope of words and strangle this business. With a microphone to catch the last gurgles and Technicolor to photograph the red swollen tongue."

Sunday, December 03, 2023

Napoleon (Ridley Scott, 2023)


Make love, not war

Ridley Scott at his best can be an immersive filmmaker and with the opening of his latest feature Napoleon he manages to locate you in the middle of the Place de Revolution, 1793, where a wood cart wheels one Marie Antoinette to the guillotine. Lovely little vignette with the queen (Catherine Walker) standing stoically while folks jeer and pelt her with rocks and rotting vegetables (a tomato stain marking her bosom like a scarlet letter). Some trouble fitting the stock onto her neck-- these are the little details that help you believe the reality of her oncoming death, and when the executioner picks up the head by its locks and shakes it at the roaring crowd you watch the expression closely wondering if you might catch it blink (you don't). Apocryphally Napoleon (Joaquin Phoenix) stands in the sidelines, watching.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Edgar Wright 2010)


Game on

Not a big fan of video games. The last game I took even halfway serious was Missile Command back in the '80s-- something somehow addictive about keeping all those relentlessly approaching nuclear missiles from wiping out everything you know and love, something somehow traumatic about the big flashing THE END that flashed your failure That, plus the cool trackball spinning in one hand, sending the crosshairs skittering across the screen--what's not to like?

Monday, November 20, 2023

The Killer (David Fincher, 2023)


David Fincher's The Killer hit Netflix recently and depending on where you're sitting it's either the least provocative thing he's ever done or the most evocative thing he's ever done. 

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Ely Cruz, 1948 - 2023

Shadow man

Ely Cruz passed just a few weeks ago, an event little noted by newspapers or even by the studios he worked for-- a tragedy, because he was a master cinematographer who worked for filmmakers as diverse as Mike de Leon, Peque Gallaga, Gil Portes, Chito Rono, Tikoy Aguiluz. 

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon (Martin Scorsese, 2023)


Once upon a time in America

(Warning: story and finale discussed in explicit detail)

Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon is three and a half hours long-- deal with it. Folks complain when a film's runtime ticks past the hundred minute mark or its pacing slows to a deliberate crawl; they seem to want more of the standard-issue Disney/Marvel fare either sequel or prequel or reboot with regular helpings of superpowered action, the usual cast of likable characters, the ironclad promise of state-of-the-art digitals. Amusement park rides, Scorsese once called them as opposed to cinema, and he isn't far wrong: even the twists and turns of plot are comfortingly familiar, recycled ad nauseam. Scorsese likes to challenge the status quo: his films, to paraphrase Harlan Ellison, are steak to be chewed thoroughly and digested-- not tapioca pudding that can be gummed without effort. 

Monday, October 09, 2023

The Creator (Gareth Edwards, 2023)


Good morning Vietnam

Gareth Edwards' The Creator begins with a prologue updating us on recent history: an AI detonates a nuclear device in Los Angeles and Western nations outlaw machine intelligence; a country called New Asia defies the ban and allows peaceful coexistence, and in response the United States wages an extended military campaign against said nation, seeking to assassinate the intelligences' chief designer Nirmata ('creator' in Sanskrit). 

Film proper begins with a raid on a beachside home: Sgt. Joshua Taylor (John David Washington) happily lives there with pregnant wife Maya (Gemma Chan); turns out Taylor had gone undercover to try get close to Maya, who's believed to be the daughter of the mysterious Nirmata-- falling in love with her wasn't in his brief. The raid ends with Maya and her unborn child killed by NOMAD, short for North American Orbital Mobile Aerospace Defense-- an all-seeing Angel of Death holding its Damoclean sword over the world, ready to smite all things artificial. 

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Once Upon a Time in China 4, 5, in China and America (Yuen Bun, Tsui Hark, Sammo Hung; 1993, 1994, 1997)

Leftovers

(Warning: plot of Once Upon a Time in China 4, 5, 6 discussed in explicit detail)

Folks who aren't already diehard fans or are belatedly catching this on DVD or streaming usually watch only the first three installments but Tony Rayns in his Criterion appreciation insists Tsui Hark's total vision doesn't truly unfolds until you've seen Part 5. 

Monday, September 25, 2023

Howl's Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004)


Man in a high castle

Hayao Miyazaki's version of Diana Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle  lurches out of mysterious fog right at the start of the film-- a gigantically mutated armored version of the Baba Yaga's chicken-leg house, complete with gun-turret eyes and brassplated tongue. The castle bristles with balconies and smokestacks and batwings (Fish fins? Chinese junk sails?); popped out of one side of its head is a little chapel tipped with crucifix; a brick tail (Anus? Rearward penis?) trails between balljointed legs ending in a door lit by a solitary lamp. It's like Miyazaki had spent a month brainstorming ideas for the castle's look got over a dozen good suggestions (Munchausen whale island, steampunk samurai, flying fortress cyborg) struggled to choose among them hit upon an inspired thought: why not use them all?

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Essential Truths of the Lake (Lav Diaz, 2023)

Lady of the lake

Call Lav Diaz's latest film Essential Truths of the Lake a prequel to his When the Waves are Gone (Kung Wala Nang Mga Alon 2022); call the film a deeper dive into Diaz's returning character Hermes Papauran, the oft-described 'greatest Filipino investigator ever.' 

Monday, September 11, 2023

World Trade Center (Oliver Stone, 2006)


This is not a political film

That was the mantra Oliver Stone reportedly repeated to himself while making his latest feature -- the idea being to show what happened on September 11, 2001, when two passenger jets hit the Twin Towers and sent them tumbling down. "The details are the details are the details," he says, having been told in no uncertain terms by producers Michael Shamberg and Stacy Sher (who gave him the aforementioned mantra) to keep the paranoid conspiracy theories to a minimum (JFK anyone?) and stick to facts.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Once Upon a Time in China Parts 1, 2, 3 (Tsui Hark, 1991, 1992, 1993)


A Chinese feast

(Warning: story discussed in explicit detail)

Cantonese folk hero Wong Fei-hung has no real equivalent in other cultures -- what if Abraham Lincoln could kick so high hard fast his leg would leave no shadow? What if Jose Rizal was not just an accomplished healer and martial arts master (he's both, plus naturalist, sculptor, poet, and popular novelist) but bald as an ostrich egg? What if writer-producer-director Tsui Hark retold Wong's long-popular exploits in epic form, arguably one of the high points if not the high point of Hong Kong cinema's golden age?

Friday, August 25, 2023

Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)


Toyed are us

Toy Story is a warm, witty, precisely paced entertainment. It has all your favorite toys, featured in one movie. It has the voice of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, two proven actors with a pair of Oscars and several hundred million in boxoffice between them. It has wall-to-wall state-of-the-art computer graphic effects designed to pop your eyes out if you’re not careful. It has the multimedia might of the Walt Disney conglomerate behind it for heavy marketing muscle. It’s going to be the biggest hit of the year. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Meg 2: The Trench (Ben Wheatley


Jaw'd, too

Some folks may find it hard to believe (having trouble myself) but The Meg and its present sequel Meg 2: The Trench are adapted from a pair of science-fiction novels by Steve Altern, with a possible six more books if this installment makes money (indications suggesting it will). Adapted by three writers no less, which raises the question: can you even tell?

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Merry Widow (Erich von Stroheim, 1925)


The last waltz

Funny, if you compare the original operetta of The Merry Widow to Lubitsch' version with Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier you'll find a sophisticated romantic comedy involving a rich widow and the officer from a small country ordered to woo her.

I remember that Lubitsch version and loved it for the effervescent humor, the witticisms flipped at you like little crepes; at the same time it was a lavish production-- the ballroom scene alone had hundreds of extras and a thousand gaslights, and MacDonald wore a dozen gowns. Lubitsch, apparently, could direct a big production and still keep his signature airy tone.

Erich Von Stroheim's The Merry Widow you'd hardly recognize as the same creature except for the famous waltz that plays a prominent role in the plot. He delves into the widow's backstory, building up a failed romance between the widow (Mae Murray)-- who starts out as Sally O'Hara, dancer for the traveling show The Manhattan Follies-- and Prince Danilo (John Gilbert); against them he pits Crown Prince Mirko (Roy D'Arcy), a repulsive example of royal inbreeding, all smirks and leers and hypocritical fastidiousness (he loathes flies, but laughs in agreement when Danilo calls him a swine).

Monday, August 07, 2023

Bug (William Friedkin, 2006)


The Itchy and Scratchy Show


Bug is a small, relatively unheralded release costing four million dollars-- gargantuan by Philippine standards (most medium-sized productions run about half a million or so), but practically peanuts by Hollywood's, where 'small' films run from twenty to forty million. It's also the single best thing William Friedkin's ever done.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

The Greatest Food Films Ever




Lust for life

(An incomplete essay)

Hard to make a case for films about food before the late '80s. There wasn't much of a movement to help stimulate craving other than the occasional cooking show on American public television (Food Network was only a glimmer of an idea in the horizon), and the handful that actually dealt with the subject weren't all appetizing. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Barbie (Greta Gerwig, 2023)

Life in plastic

I put it to my wife. "Want to see a movie?" "Which one?" "Barbie."

She gave me a look. "I know I know I know, but I feel funny watching it alone."

"Seriously? You took your teenage son to watch Magic Mike."

"You don't have to bring that up. We're both still trying to get over that experience."

Upshot of which is that she finally agreed to go, fell asleep around the twenty minute mark, woke up in time for the end credits. I filled her in on the details during dinner at a Japanese restaurant-- her price for agreeing to come with me. 

Monday, July 24, 2023

Oppenheimer (Christopher Nolan, 2023)

Mission impossible

(Warning: plot twists discussed in explicit detail)

Get this out of the way: Christopher Nolan is the boxoffice savior of modern American cinema.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Science Fiction: A Ghetto




Science Fiction: A Ghetto

Science fiction as a genre gets little respect.

“What?” goes the cries. “With the Star Wars series, the Transformer series, the Jurassic Park series, and the Marvel Comics Universe raking in billions?”

Thursday, July 13, 2023

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Aren't you glad you used Dial?

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny feels like your last high school class reunion where you spot old faces and gossip about missing ones. O look Harrison Ford with his Traveller hat! Yanking on his leather whip! O look John Rhys-Davies as Sallah driving a yellow cab! O and isn't that--? Yes it is now shut up we aren't meant to spoil anything (that's a job for TikTok). 

Thursday, July 06, 2023

Pangarap ng Puso (Demons, Mario O'Hara, 2000)


Demon lover

Mario O'Hara's Pangarap ng Puso (Demons, 2000) is about a pair of children who grow up at the edge of the Negros' enchanted rain forests, fall in love, are pulled into the tumultuous currents of history. Their growth can be seen in the evolving ways the two lovers view the creatures that dance about them-- as a child's metaphor for the wide, unknown world; as a pubescent's metaphor for emerging sexuality; as a young adult's metaphor for the daibolic impulses that drive terrorists and fascists alike, locked in a never ending cycle of violence and revenge.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Asteroid City (Wes Anderson, 2023)

Stargazer

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

Wes Anderson's latest is more of the usual, only different-- good news to Anderson fans, an occasion to groan for most everyone else (tho go figure, opening weekend gave him his biggest box office earnings ever).

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Gagamboy 

In Philip K. Dick's Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, celebrity singer and TV host Jason Taverner passes out in a medical facility, having been treated for an attack from a 'Callisto cuddle sponge,' a dangerous parasite (alien, judging from the name) thrown at him by a former lover. He wakes up in a cheap motel, learns he's not only not famous but his friends don't know him, and he has no identification papers-- dangerous situation in Dick's version of 1988 United States, where if you can't prove who you are to one of many police checkpoints in Los Angeles you can be arrested and sent to a forced labor camp. 

Thursday, June 08, 2023

The Whale (Darren Aronofsky, 2022)

Killing me softly

(Warning: plot details explicitly discussed)

Darren Aronofsky's The Whale (2022) adapted Samuel D Hunter's play to the big screen and we more or less know how the film has fared: made respectable money from a small ($3 million) budget, won Brendan Fraser an Academy Award for playing a morbidly obese man trying to re-connect with his estranged daughter, provoked either ecstatic or angry reactions from a broad range of critics. 

Aronofsky was smart enough to consult with the Obesity Action Coalition, and the statement on their website is interesting: they did not have any input on the decision to cast Fraser, nor did they have any input about the design and appearance of the suit meant to make the actor look like he weighed 600 pounds; they did find Fraser 'highly receptive' to their suggestions about how to approach his role, and felt he did 'a remarkable job.' They admitted to taking part in the production to 'help make sure' the character is portrayed in a 'realistic' way, but didn't explicitly say it was realistic; they hedged a little saying 'how individuals experience obesity varies,' but admit 'SOME people may have had (the same) experiences.' Tactfully worded, and about the best the production could hope for, considering this may have been a late innings consultation.  Stayed clear of a full-throated approval, but no violent objections. 

I do like what they have to say about the title: ''Whale' is often a derogatory term used for people with obesity. However, after reading the play and seeing the movie...it has a much deeper meaning.' These people take context into consideration, how cool is that?

O what did I think of it? Well let me tell you. 

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)


Survivor

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