Sunday, April 21, 2024

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 with panoramic views of Manila. We see Babette Gomez (Nora Aunor) and her family arrive at an apartment complex; movers unload furniture carry it into their new home. O'Hara's camera watches as the family settles in and we come to know each member-- imperious Sofia (Anita Linda) presiding over the 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 as much of the heavy lifting as 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 selling clothes and her son Bobby (Dennis Roldan). Only courtly old Mang Jesus (Carpi Asturias) seems to notice Babette; they talk of the tiny cacti she's raising, and she notes (without any irony) that succulents flourish on very little care and water. Luring offers Sofia clothes and her life's story-- she's raising Bobby on her own and 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) so she can't go out to earn a living. Sofia makes a proposal: instead of paying for the clothes, maybe Babette can come 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 little girls in fairy tales peering into dark dens, wondering at the silence). She finds Bobby upstairs, chained, sets the food before him; he hunches over the plate, eating with his fingers. Later, Babette asks Bobby for his basketball-- to clean it, she explains; Bobby hands the ball over after some hesitation. For the first time O'Hara cuts to a closeup-- of Babette's face then of Bobby's (before this the picture has been all long and medium shots). They have somehow connected.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Civil War (Alex Garland, 2024)

This means war

Alex Garland's Civil War is set in the near future (from Max Headroom: "20 minutes into the future") but traces its roots to the recent past, particularly films on journalists or photojournalists wading into war zones trying to catch the story: Under Fire, The Year of Living DangerouslyThe Killing FieldsSalvador.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer, 2023)

House & garden

Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest begins with a band of solid black held for an interminable time-- Mica Levi's sound collages growling from the big screen-- then cut to a German family picnicking on a lakeside meadow. They pack up, go home, arrive after sunset, fall asleep (mother and father in separate beds). Next morning father is hurriedly dressing but the children play a little game, blindfolding him and leading him to the front courtyard where they surprise him with a new canoe, and of course if you know anything about the film's premise you're waiting-- but even if you don't know anything you can't help but tense up as you wonder: why is the camera so claustrophobically locked in the direction of the house, why are we seeing the canoe only from one side and not the other? Finally father must leave, steps away from the canoe; cut to that long-anticipated reverse shot-- father climbs onto his horse, a guard tower looming over him as his animal walks him leisurely into work. 

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Blade 2 (Guillermo del Toro, 2002

Hot Blood Sundae

Blade 2 doesn’t so much improve on the first one as it does evolve-- like the creatures at center stage-- beyond. Both movies are based on Marvel’s comic book series, about a half-human, half-vampire hunter who uses a stylish mix of whirling chrome knives and state-of-the-art tech to hunt his bloodsucking brethren.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Christ almighty

Questioning The Passion of the Christ

Mel Gibson and his publicists have repeatedly claimed that his The Passion of the Christ is the most historically accurate of all pictures made on Jesus.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Gaano Kita Kamahal (Mario O'Hara, 1981)

Eternity and a day

Coming off the commercial and critical success of Kastilyong Buhangin (Castle of Sand, 1980), Nora Aunor, Lito Lapid, and Mario O'Hara put their heads together once more to present Gaano Kita Kamahal (How Much I Love You, 1981), a more ambitious more lavish production.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Dune: Part Two (Denis Villeneuve, 2024)

Done again

(Warning: details of both '84, '21, '24 films and '65 book discussed in freewheelingly explicit detail)

Denis Villeneuve finishing his two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic science fiction novel and you want to ask: was it worth the wait? Was it worth the hype? Was it worth sitting through the first movie?

Friday, March 01, 2024

David Bordwell (1947 - 2024)

David Bordwell (1947 - 2024)

I remember him in the Hong Kong Film Festival, always at his preferred spot: first row, at the exact center, the screen filling his eyes.
I remember talking to him in between screenings, and on the ferry between Hong Kong and Kowloon: when I mentioned that 30s Hollywood films lost their visual dexterity thanks to the advent of sound he took exception; turns out he was right because he's seen practically every film ever made, or at least more than I ever did.

And while I'm trying to catch the latest and hottest films he's running off to some far-flung theater to catch the screening of a rare Hong Kong or Chinese film I've never heard of. If I was smart I'd have been trailing him.

I remember writing about his book Planet Hong Kong and having fun not just reading it but writing about it.

I still read his blog, an encyclopedic and authoritative resource for detailed analysis on everything from The Dark Knight (he hated it) to Hou Hsiaou Hsien (loved him) to Hunt for Red October (loved it).
I remember helping him access a few Filipino films, and him sending me in turn a copy of his book Poetics of Cinema. He was wonderful company, and an amazing (and amazingly thorough) film writer

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap (Should the Skies Clear, Laurice Guillen, 1984)

Family planning

(WARNING: storyline and plot twists discussed in detail)

Laurice Guillen's Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap (Should the Skies Clear, 1984) is yet another popular komiks series (adapted by Orlando Nadres and Lualhati Bautista from a serial by Gilda Olvidado) about young Catherine Clemente (Hilda Koronel), upset that her mother Minda (Gloria Romero) has fallen for newcomer Pablo Acuesta (Eddie Garcia). Catherine's boyfriend Rustan (Christopher de Leon, almost a required name for middle-class melodramas) scoffs at her fears but Catherine won't be placated; she knows Pablo and his progeny-- Chona (Isabel Rivas), Rita (Amy Austria), Jojo (Michael de Mesa)-- are up to no good.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Tikoy Aguiluz (1947 - 2024)


Tattooed gangster

As Tikoy put it he grew up in a penitentiary (the Davao Penal Colony, or Depacol, where his father was prison auditor) learning how to box from one of the veteran convicts. With his six other brothers, all of them wearing shorts instead of long pants and speaking in a funny Tagalog accent instead of everyday Visayan, they attracted the attention and ridicule of all the other kids, not necessarily starting fights but finishing them wherever they went. Tikoy's ambition in life was simple: to get a tattoo, and be a gangster; he ended up working briefly in Hollywood, then coming back to the Philippines to become one of the finest filmmakers in the industry. 

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Bagong Bayani (Unsung Heroine, Tikoy Aguiluz, 1995)

Proxy mother
Tikoy Aguiluz's Bagong Bayani was made in two months on a shoestring budget, has been plagued by unaccountable production delays (due to pressure from Viva Studios, perhaps?); so far no theater has agreed to release it, so the closest you might get is this article

Which is a filthy shame: Bagong Bayani is the best Filipino film of the year. "But the year's only half over," you might point out; actually I think this is the best Filipino film since Orapronobis in the late 1980's.

Monday, February 12, 2024

El Conde (Pablo Larrain, 2023)


I remember mentioning a notable name in the Filipino film industry to one of our better filmmakers, who declared him "an impakto" --Tagalog for 'bloodsucker.'

I looked at him. "Really? How about--" and mentioned someone else. "Another impakto." "And--?" "Yet another impakto!" I tossed off several more names and all he could say was "impakto, the lot of them."

Which conversation I remember while watching Pablo Larrain's latest feature, a rather obvious high concept horror comedy that answers the question: what if Augusto Pinochet was a vampire? Not a political or metaphoric monster draining Chile of its economic prosperity but a literal supernatural leech?

Dune (Denis Villeneuve 2021; David Lynch 1984; Frank Herbert 1965)


(Warning: plot details for the 2021 remake the 1984 adaptation and the 1965 original discussed in explicit detail)

Denis Villeneuve's long-delayed Dune (initiated 2016; shot in 2019; released 2021) does this much right: it tells Frank Herbert's story-- the societal complexity (Great Houses and Guilds), the skullduggery (plans within plans within plans within plans), Paul Atreides' meteoric ascent-- coherently. Villeneuve carefully hands over with both hands what Lynch in his 1984 version threw at us wholesale, not so much an info dump as explosive diarrhea. With Villeneuve you feel a touch overwhelmed; with Lynch it swirls past your eyebrows, climbing. 

Monday, February 05, 2024

The Wicker Man

Snicker man

Difficult to understand why anyone thought a remake of The Wicker Man-- the classic horror mood piece about a police officer who lands on a far island in search of a missing child-- would be a good idea: the film has a plot twist that once revealed was basically it for the audience; only thing left was to pick up your coat and look for the exit. Audiences who saw the 1973 production would know; those who haven't are advised not to bother.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

American Fiction (Cord Jefferson, 2023)

His pafology

Cord Jefferson-- who penned an episode of the inventive (if somewhat reductive) sequel to Alan Moore's Watchmen-- has settled into the director's chair, adapting for his debut directorial feature Percival Everett's Erasure, and it's a treat of a film-- funny without being laugh out loud, intense without pratfalling into standard-issue melodrama, wry clear-eyed skeptical of whatever happens to be trending on socmed. 

Monday, January 29, 2024

L'Argent (Robert Bresson, 1983)

Reprinting an old article Bresson because--well, because there's no good reason not to read about Bresson (list of my posts on him as follows): 

Au hasard, Balthazar, 1966), Journal d'un cure de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest, 1951), Mouchette (1967), and Un condamne a mort (A Man Escaped, 1956)

On bread alone

(Note: plot discussed in close detail)

The ostensible subject of Robert Bresson's last film L'Argent (1983) is money (hence the title), and in fact Bresson uses the pulling out, counting, and passing over of franc notes from one person to another as a kind of repeated motif throughout. But it's the love of the stuff that causes the real trouble (a distinction Catholic priests like to remind us of in Sunday mass) and initiates the central movement in the film, the downward slide of Yvon Targe (Christian Patey) from heating-oil deliveryman and husband to convict and axe murderer.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2023)

Pride of Frankenstein

Yorgos Lanthimos' latest has an early scene of Bella (Emma Stone) holding a scalpel at an alarming angle and stabbing a corpse's eyeballs multiple times while her horrifically disfigured father Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe in heavy makeup) looks up fondly from the patient he himself is cutting-- and yet I agree with the assessment that the film is a comedy-- possibly Lanthimos' warmest most cheerful most wholesome work yet. 

Monday, January 15, 2024

Master Gardener (Paul Schrader, 2022)


Heard it said of Paul Schrader's Master Gardener that it's his umpteenth retelling of the God's Lonely Man trope, starting from Taxi Driver (1976) to three of his last four films including First Reformed and The Card Counter, but I disagree; those films ended with redemption or rebirth or some form of baptism as climax, either through love, or punishment, or blood. This film I think takes up the narrative years later, a 'what happens after?' question hanging in the air.

Monday, January 08, 2024

Films of 2023

List of 2023

Not everything I've seen for the year but everything I think deserves to be noted, for good or bad. More mainstream than I'd like but life happens. I do try note films I've seen but not newly released in 2023, and why I thought them worth talking about.