Monday, November 20, 2017

A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies, 2016)



The premature burial 

Attempt something often enough and sooner or later you get it right. Attempt the biopic often enough and someone was bound to hit the bullseye sometime, not so much telling a subject's story with reasonable accuracy as using said subject's life as grist to express the filmmaker's obsessions on his own stylistic terms--thinking Wong Kar Wai's lush narratively wayward The Grandmaster or Jane Campion's austere Bright Star with its focus on the female protagonist (John Keat's great love Fanny Brawne). Terence Davies' A Quiet Passion does something as interesting if not more so: cast Emily Dickinson--one of America's greatest poets--in what essentially reads as a horror film.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953)


Ghost story

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

Kenji Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moon and Rain 1953) based on a collection of Ueda Akinari short stories of the same title (in particular "The House in the Thicket" and "The Lust of the White Serpent")--plus a bit of short fiction by Guy de Maupassant ("Decore!" or "How He Got the Legion of Honor")--is often considered the director's finest work, the supreme achievement of not just Japanese but world cinema.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Begotten (E. Elias Merhige, 1990)

Misbegotten

E. Elias Merhige's Begotten has sprouted a few legends since it emerged in 1990--how the writer / director / producer / cinematographer / special effect-and-sound designer spent three years of his life and an estimated $33,000 to make it; how he conducted extensive experiments including running the unexposed negative through sandpaper and building his own optical printer to fabricate the special effects (most of the details can be found in a 9/20/10 interview he did for horrornews.net). The results have since been considered one of the most (if not the most) disturbing films ever made.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008)


Martyred

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

Pascal Laugier's 2008 horror film deserves respect for taking the challenge presented by American torture porn (The Devil's Rejects, Hostel 1 and Hostel 2, the remake of I Spit In Your Grave) and upping the ante considerably.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Blade Runner vs. Blade Runner 2049


Does Deckard dream of synthetic sheep?

(Warning: narratives of Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049 and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? discussed in close detail)

Ridley Scott's science fiction epic Blade Runner opened back in 1982 to poor boxoffice and middling-to-hostile reviews (including a memorable slam by Pauline Kael).


And then--like a launching police spinner or Roy Batty's level of empathy--the film's reputation rose. From cult classic to cultural touchstone to a place in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry pantheon, Scott's possible masterpiece is now widely considered one of the greatest science fiction films ever made.

The film print went through its own odyssey from seven differently edited versions (including a Director's Cut that doesn't have the director's full participation or approval and a Final Cut that does) VHS releases laserdisc releases DVD releases Blu-Ray releases lord knows how many re-issues and retrospectives and finally--after thirty-five long years--a sequel.

How is the picture? Lemme put it this way:


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)


Carneval

Like a maestro with baton poised Claire Denis begins her 2001 genre film with vague stirrings (couple making out in a car) then a confident if understated gesture: truck drives past hitchhiking woman stops reverses; the woman smiles. Driver climbs out of his cabin walks towards her the truck's rear flashing its appropriately named 'hazard' lights.

So far so what? Working class lump attractive woman--not much to see here. Setup for a rather lurid scenario the woman presumably asking for trouble when she raised her thumb at the guy--only why is the woman's smile so wide why does her eyes flicker with an unnatural spark? Why are we  aware of the truck's flashers aimed directly at us, the driver--who turned them on in the first place--pointedly ignoring their warning as he walks towards the object of his desire and doom?


Friday, October 06, 2017

Out 1 (Jacques Rivette)


Let us play

What to call Jacques Rivette's 1971 work? He named it 'Out' because the word 'in' was so fashionable (the 'in thing' to do) added a '1' because "(t)he action of the film is rather like a serial which could continue through several episodes."

But Rivette is also all about accident and chance (throughout his career but particularly in this production), and (so the story goes) scribbled on the cans of an early work print were the words 'touch me not' in Latin. What could be more eloquently descriptive of this monstrous long mix of fantasy and realism filled with characters so sensitive (so perceptive so susceptible to suffering) they both resist and seek out contact? What more appropriate plea than that the film is a special case that must not be shortened or simplified?

What's in it? A series of scenes where Rivette gathers his actors (or actor) tells them who they are and what must basically be said and/or done to further the plot (such as it is) then cuts them loose. And they fly or stumble (as the director put it) "without text or rehearsal" bringing something new to the scene the film the world.

On and on and on for some twelve-and-a-half hours.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

mother! (Darren Aronofsky 2017)





A boy's best friend

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

Call it Rosemary's Baby with a strong dose of The Shining or: what happens when a pregnant woman's gnawing sense of paranoia confronts a writer's block. 

Darren Aronofsky's latest feature mother!--title is a minefield of smallcase capitalization and punctuation--feels at first like a creepy-funny mix of the two. mother (Jennifer Lawrence) is married to Him (Javier Bardem); both live in a three-story house in the middle of lovely nowhere (no driveway no mailbox, the structure apparently airlifted to location and dropped in place (the production is reported to have used a constructed set for the first-floor daytime sequences, soundstages for the later night scenes involving upper and lower stories)).

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese)



Bronx Othello 

Properly speaking Scorsese in what is arguably his masterpiece should have introduced the lean La Motta (Robert de Niro) to us first let us get used to him then revealed the overweight figure later on--but no; Scorsese wasn’t interested in easy dramatic strategies. He immediately has us confront the later man in all his fleshy glory complete with piggy eyes and wheezing breath delivering his nightclub monologue, a mix of highbrow quote (“a horse a horse my kingdom for a horse!”) and lowbrow aside (“haven’t had a winner in six months”) in the same gag. We are bemused, if slightly repelled by the man; he looks like the kind of close relative you hide silverware from when visiting. He ends his spiel with arms flung wide declaring “That’s entertainment!” repeats the line thoughtfully looking at his cigar (his lost virility?). The film cuts back to a boxing ring in 1941

Friday, September 22, 2017

Logan Lucky (Steven Soderbergh, 2017)


Low rent gold

Late in the film a news announcer dubbed the racetrack robbers the "Ocean 7-11" and I can't think of a better term to describe the picture: basically a Steven Soderbergh-directed heist movie complete with large cast and intricate plan, done in a thick West Virginia accent and for a considerably smaller budget.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Respeto (Treb Monteras II, 2017)













Faceoff

Film swaggers all pissed off all kissed off
Staggering while dragging a pair.
Has the grit of an 8 Mile ripoff at kickoff
Midway a Karate Kid flair.

Despite the borrowed feel borrowed beat
We confront a whole other creature
With its own look its own meat its own heat
Pitched like a hundred-five fever

Old man meets young buck shit out of luck
Old will teach young some wisdom:
Words that stun as if head had been struck*
Set to the young buck's rhythm

Cuz rap is no stranger to Philippine shores
We been battling for near a century**
The rhymes the pulse the lyrical wars
The fight to inflict verbal injury

But young buck too the old man fuel
Remind him of a past bad-scarred
The pains of living under Marcos rule
(The ghoul the cruel the redtipped tool)
The ghosts whose memories die hard

All swept aside by the new reality
This 'drug war' our mayor declared;
What's two lives in a fascist totality
(Insanity bestiality gory immorality)
Deaths 'tween generations shared?

This be a new exciting young punk
Aureate glow hard-rapping tempo
But its soul's straight out of '70s funk
Out of Mike and Mario Ishma and Lino***

Film has its flaws can't be denied****
But lands with a 'FUCK YOU!' thud
Speaks truth to power to arrogant pride
To the lust to spill our blood


*(Featuring samples from Bien Lumbera, Frank Rivera, Vim Nadera and other carnivora)

**(It's called Balagtasan, yo!)

***(Not so much the '70s as the '70s to '80s Martial Law films: Mike de Leon's Batch '81; Mario O'Hara's Bagong Hari; Ishmael Bernal's Manila by Night; Lino Brocka's Insiang)

****(Would a man with a gun stop if confronted? Wasn't the man attempting multiple EJKs (Extra Judicial Killings) at the finale the wrong man?*****)

*****(Meaning--those who plan to watch DON'T READ--shoulda been a cop not a drug dealer?******)

******(Still a worthwhile film)

First published in Businessworld 9.15.17

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Twin Peaks Season 3 Finale (David Lynch, 2017)

Cherchez la femme

(Warning: plot outline and narrative twists discussed in close detail)

In the first part of The Return finale co-writers Lynch and Frost assembles most of the series' characters (those left alive I mean) at the Peaks sheriff's station, lashes every (well most) storylines together in a single great gift-wrapped all-encompassing Christmas package of a resolution. In the second half Lynch takes that package stuffs it under the belly of the Trinity bomb and fires the device, sending everything up in a mushroom cloud spinning slowly against the dark New Mexico sky.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Ma' Rosa (Brilliante Mendoza, 2016)

Swap heads

Brillante Mendoza's latest feature executes the immersive handheld camera style of filmmaking as well as could be done despite the small production budget of a little over fifteen million pesos (roughly $300,000).


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Birdshot (Mikhail Red, 2016)


Deadeye

Mikhail Red's sophomore effort is a surprisingly assured film revolving around two mysteries: the disappearance of a busload of agrarian reform activists and the killing of a Philippine (popularly known as 'monkey-eating') eagle.

Actually the second isn't quite a mystery as we know who did it: a young girl named Maya (Mary Joy Apostol, also her second feature) who wanders into a nature preserve and unwittingly brings down the great bird. But why is the felony being prosecuted so vigorously by the police when they have other more urgent cases to resolve? Who is the mysterious red-shirted figure stalking Maya through forests and farm fields on occasion standing silent outside her house?


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tobe Hooper 1943 - 2017

He came he 'Saw he conquered

Tobe Hooper 1943 - 2017

The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre was shot for something like $350,000,which wouldn't even cover the makeup budget of the remake; they didn't even have the money to make a special effect 'saw so what you see for the entire film is a live and working chainsaw. Gunnar Hansen,who plays Leatherface says the 'saw started up every time and that sometimes he would work the saw just three inches from an actor's face looking through the tiny eyeholes of his Leatherface mask. I figure the fear you saw in their faces wasn't all acting. 

There was in fact one scene where he goes beserk with the 'saw (you see it in the film), and he could see through his tiny eyeholes the director of photography, one of the producers, and director Tobe Hooper running for their lives. 

One of my favorite stories that Hansen tells is of one of the characters who took ten hours to put his makeup on. After that ordeal he announced that he wasn't going to do that again, so he wanted all his scenes shot NOW, and then he's leaving for good.

So they shot round the clock for 27 hours to finish all his scenes, the most extensive of which was a dinner party in an enclosed room with an average temperature of 100 degrees indoors.

Everyone was broiling literally from the Texas heat, had gone without sleep for more than a day, and were under enormous pressure to finish the scene which was experiencing plenty of trouble, technical and otherwise. 

Gunnar Hansen confessed that several times he lost it. When someone yelled at him to "Kill the bitch (actress Marilyn Burns)," Hansen, thinking by this time that he really was Leatherface stood up and walked over, ready to really kill her.

Later in the same scene Burns' finger was to be cut by a knife. Hansen held a knife with its edge taped for safety, and a tube on the hidden side ready to spout blood. Only the fake blood had congealed and the tube wouldn't spout. 

After the umpteenth take with the blood not spouting Hansen turned around took the tape off,and on cue actually sliced Burns' finger open. Burns' horrific reaction to Hansen's cut wasn't acting either. 

Really there's an energy and force and--well, I hesitate to call it realism--to the original Texas Chain Saw that I don't think any remake reboot or rehash is ever going to match.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Salvage (Sherad Anthony Sanchez 2015)


Handhell

Sherad Anthony Sanchez's Salvage (2015) takes its title from the common Filipino slang word for summary execution, which Pete Lacaba in his Manila Times column "Carabeef Lengua" explains: "It was during martial rule that salvaging came to acquire its present Filipino meaning. To salvage is to save things from a wreckage, but the visual similarity of the word to the Tagalog salbahe (naughty, abusive), which is itself derived from the Spanish salvaje (savage), inevitably led to the present denotation of salvaging as extrajudicial or summary execution of both criminal and subversive elements."

I remember a simpler explanation, though I can't remember where I got it nor find any documentary basis online: that the military is 'saving' or 'salvaging' the victim's soul from the evils of communism.


Hamog (Haze, Ralston Jover, 2015)

Children of the mist

Ralston Jover's Hamog (Haze, 2015) starts appropriately enough with just that: a thick cloud hovering low over humid Manila canals. The camera (presumably mounted on a drone) glides towards and rises over a huge sewer pipe lined with cardboard, on which the homeless young lie sleeping.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kita Kita (I See You, Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2017)

Eye of the beholder

I'm guessing the secret to Sigrid Andrea Bernardo's success with Kita Kita turns on two things: 1) She wasn't looking to make the usual romantic comedy and 2) Audiences were sick to death of the usual romantic comedy and wanted something else. 


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Baby Driver (Edgar Wright 2017)

Wheel fast

Edgar Wright's Baby Driver is like a little go-cart that whizzes by lickety-split; the action scenes are reasonably coherent with little visible CGI effects unlike some recent fast-car movies I can think of (Fast Five anyone?) cut to the rhythm of a catchy if not genuinely eclectic sound track.


Monday, August 07, 2017

Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising (Moments in a Stolen Dream, Mike De Leon, 1977)


Love is a closely pondered thing

(Warning: plot and narrative twists discussed in detail)

Trust Mike De Leon not to pursue the usual career trajectory. If most aspiring writers and filmmakers are advised to write (film) 'what you know,' with Itim (Rites of May 1975) he spun a haunted tale evoking Gothic atmosphere with uncanny skill,* demonstrated a mastery of sound and image that made critics sit up and ask "What'll he do next?"

*(There's a rumor--not taken very seriously--that Hideo Nakata once worked in or apprenticed at or at least visited LVN Studios around the time of this film's release. True or not, tickles me pink to think that De Leon's first film may have had an influence on Nakata's own

Next apparently was a quiet little comic romance, not just intimate but downright confessional. Admit to not having met De Leon or knowing much about him, but Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising (Moments in a Stolen Dream 1977) gave one the impression of an extremely private man allowing a glimpse into his soul. 


Friday, August 04, 2017

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan 2017)

Brexit

Christopher Nolan's latest deals for the first time with an actual event, massive in scale and complex in nature--the mass exodus of over 300,000 soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, arguably the greatest retreat (some might prefer the term 'escape') in history.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves 2017)


Chimp thrills

(Warning! Narrative twists and overall plot discussed in detail.)

First the good stuff: Andy Serkis' Caesar (last seen gazing thoughtfully at his kneeling followers in the previous Ape installment) returns as the franchise's digitally enhanced protagonist, all ferocious scowl and simian gait and flaring nostrils. All the apes look great, from the moonfaced Maurice (Karin Konoval playing a Bornean orangutan) to the intimidating yet ultimately gentle Luca (Michael Adamthwaite playing a lowland gorilla) to the hilariously craven Bad Ape (Steve Zahn as a common chimpanzee); they look different they act different, the human performers perfectly choreographed and translated into simian through motion capture. Gets to the point that you forget they are apes, and follow their story as naturally and effortlessly as if you'd been following a band of humans on a desperate mission.
  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming (Jon Watts 2017)

Peter's day out

After Zack Snyder's ideas for an angsty Man of Steel and dreary dark Knight one might understand the need of audiences for a change of pace: the lighter (if suicidally wrongheaded) Suicide Squad; the funnier (if dramatically weightless) Deadpool; and James Gunn's pair of (mostly amusing somewhat touching) Guardians come to mind.

Now we have the latest Marvel Studios effort (in collaboration with Columbia, with special permission and distribution by Sony) complete with Tom Holland as squeaky-voiced Peter Parker and Marisa Tomei as uncomfortably hot Aunt May. No solemn "With great power comes great responsibility;" no Uncle Ben (or a remarkably believable Cliff Robertson to play him); and (far as I can see) no discernible personality distinct from what the corporate powers-that-be decree fit for this strictly-for-teens variation on the classic comic-book hero.


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi, 2004)



As the web still turns
 

Sam Raimi's latest comic book movie is as the title suggests more of the same only better--more digital effects more web-slinging more angst.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Spider-Man (Sam Raimi, 2002)


As the web turns 

Sam Raimi's latest superhero production is possibly the perfection of a genre comic-book writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko first developed when he created The Fantastic Four in 1961: the superhero soap. With this title the idea was refined--the hero hadn’t been extraordinary since birth ;wasn’t highly trained or educated (unlike Reed or Bruce Banner); wasn’t even a member of a team or group. Simply a geek bitten by an irradiated spider plain Peter Parker--a science whiz true but still too dumb to keep his hand out of the display case (okay the spider escaped from his cage but the point still stands).

That was Parker's unique appeal--that he could be anyone that he was anyone only with serious pest-control issues. And part of the genius of the concept is that super-powers don't make Peter's life any easier; if anything they make his life more complicated in some ways worse.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Twin Peaks Season 3, Episode 8: "Got a light?"

Ignition

(WARNING story discussed in close detail--though how comprehensible the details may be is a matter of debate, with both discussion and debate possibly an exercise in futility)

The episode's putative title--"Got a light?" sounds odd on first reading (online you see it under the episode's thumbnail pic) gains significance later on. 

It starts off plottily enough: Evil Mr. C (Kyle MacLachlan) and somewhat less evil Ray (George Griffith) have blackmailed their way out of prison, shaken away any electronic tracers*, turned off into a small side road (what is it about Lynch that he can fill interminable shots of cars nosing down dirt roads with such dread?). They confront each other, demanding money demanding information, with C pointing the 'friend' he pulled from the glove compartment (a special request provided by the prison warden) at Ray.

Only C's gun somehow fails to fire. Only Ray in a clever twist produces his own gun shooting C twice in the gut. Only when C goes down the lights start flickering and shadowy figures emerge from the woods, dancing around C's body, massaging (or pulling apart) his belly, smearing his own gore on his face, squeezing out an egg sac larva whatever that is with the spirit of BOB visibly floating inside (Ray: "I saw something in Cooper. It might be the key to what this is all about.").

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Some Came Running (Vincente Minnelli, 1958)


Small town on big screen

(Warning--plot twists and narrative discussed in detail)

Vincente Minnelli's Some Came Running (adapted from the James Jones novel) is often called an expose of the hypocrisies of small-town life and certainly there's plenty on display: Dave Hirsh (Frank Sinatra) finds himself on a bus to his hometown where he's met by estranged brother Frank (Arthur Kennedy). Frank--a savvy businessman who runs his wife's jewelry store and a savings & loan--recognizes the problem and opportunity Dave represents: a minor celebrity who's written two interesting if commercially unsuccessful books (Frank's friends the French insist on meeting him), but also a wild card (first night in town Dave is arrested for drunken brawling). Frank's solution? Why modulate (visit Dave's hotel room for a talk resembling both an interrogation and a counseling session) domesticate (invite him into the Hirsh home) assimilate (pair him off with the French's daughter Gwen (Martha Hyer)).
 
I see more, though. Minnelli's film belongs in the same genre as Federico Fellini's I Vitteloni or Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show or Lino Brocka's Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang: portrait of a small town (the fictional Parkman, Indiana) from its highest-ranked denizens (Frank and wife Agnes (Leora Dana)) to its humblest vagrant (new arrival and sometime prostitute Ginny (Shirley MacLaine)). All seen through the eyes of either an outsider or the town's more alienated folk--in the case of Dave, both (he's a returning serviceman who years before had been put in a 'home for boys' by his brother). 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Lost City of Z (James Gray, 2016)

Lost and found

You wonder looking at James Gray's New York-based dramas where the producers got the idea he was the perfect director to adapt David Grann's nonfiction The Lost City of Z--about Percy Fawcett's quest for a long-lost South American city--into a feature film. You wonder furthermore where Gray got the balls to think he could blithely sail into the same territory staked out by Francis Ford Coppola in Apocalypse Now, or better yet Werner Herzog in Aguirre the Wrath of God.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017

My heroine

(WARNING: plot and narrative twists discussed in detail)

She "(s)aved the DC Films Cinematic Universe!" declared one article; of all the hype swirling around the movie it's the attributed accomplishment I like the least. 

The movie itself? Better than expected, though saying that I realize we're talking drastically lowered expectations (Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and Batman vs. Superman anyone?). 


Thursday, June 08, 2017

Alien: Covenant (Ridley Scott, 2017)

Alienated

Coming out of the multiplex

A: So what did you think?

N: It's confused. 

A: Confused?

N: The movie doesn't know if it wants to be horror or science fiction.


Monday, June 05, 2017

A New Golden Age: Contemporary Philippine Cinema




A third golden age?

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) from June 1 to the 25th will hold an exhibit titled "A New Golden Age: Contemporary Philippine Cinema"--basically a sampling of seventeen Filipino films from a broad range of directors: Erik Matti, Ato Bautista, Brillante Mendoza, Raya Martin, Lav Diaz to name a few. 

Wonderful tribute to what I agree is a wonderful development in our turbulent country: a (relatively) young generation of filmmakers funded by new forms of financing taking up the digital lens and recording not just what's happening around them but what's happening in their heads their memories their imagination. 


Friday, June 02, 2017

Twin Peaks (David Lynch, 2017)

A stranger's dream

A little over a quarter century later.

The gum you thought would never come back.

It is happening again.

There's no berry pies served, no coffee until the fourth episode where a cup--maybe--plays a crucial role. There's donuts--boxed and labeled (apparently from a wellknown franchise) not spread out in sumptuous display--and at one point a beautifully pointless pun involving the little crullers. Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) does appear but she's older now ("I'm dead yet I live") having somehow aged in the confines of the Black Lodge. Most of the characters have visibly aged, reflecting the physical condition of much of the audience ardently watching.

Ladies and gentlemen welcome--back--to Twin Peaks.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

MNL 143 (Emerson Reyes, 2012)

Trip to Quiapo

You'd think Emerson Reyes' MNL 143took inspiration from Jafar Panahi's Taxi, or Steven Knight's Locke--both very good films that largely take place inside a vehicle--and you'd be wrong; Reyes' film came out three years before Panahi's, and a year before Knight's. Not that I'm suggesting Panahi or Knight were inspired by Reyes (Though who knows? The film screened in the Edinburgh festival the year it was released), just that the Filipino filmmaker is every bit as capable of conceiving a reasonably novel concept and now--thanks to digital filmmaking and fundraising efforts to support that filmmaking--is able to realize them on the big/small/online screen.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (James Gunn, 2017)

Beat of a different drum

This being a sequel it would be smart of me--obligatory almost--to declare that lightning doesn't strike twice, that Gunn has sold his soul to the corporate suits at Marvel, that this lacks the freshness of the original and so on and so forth. 

Might be true--is true, arguably--but what the hell enjoyed it anyway. 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Mutya ng Pasig (Pearl of Pasig, Richard Abelardo, 1950)


Love never dies

Richard Abelardo's Mutya ng Pasig (Pearl of the Pasig, 1950) at first glance plays like a musical version of Wuthering Heights (Dona Sisang's LVN Pictures was known for its musicals): the star-crossed lovers forcibly separated (this time by a false accusation and a prison term); the woman marrying another; the death in mid-narrative; the man haunted by ghosts of memories past--all accompanied by the occasional song (including the haunting eponymous melody* composed by Nicanor Abelardo, Richard's cousin) and dance number. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Takaw Tukso (William Pascual)


Fourway

I remember watching Takaw Tukso (rough translation: Passion Play, directed by William Pascual, written by Armando Lao) in a wretched 16 mm print years ago: the film would skip and skitter, and jump (it seemed) entire scenes. Had the vague notion that Boy (Gino Antonio) married Debbie (Anna Marie Gutierrez), and later Nestor (Julio Diaz) married Letty (Jaclyn Jose); also had a notion that Anita Linda played Boy's mother Aling Conching, but just what happens to her by story's end wasn't all that clear. 

What was clear was four extremely attractive people lusting after each other, husband for wife and vice versa--though not necessarily husband for his legally married wife (or vice versa); four young men and women coupling in a variety of combinations and positions, scratching an itch they can't quite reach. By the time of the film's violent climax (at least I think it was violent--the print wasn't very legible by this point) I came away with the impression of a compelling chamber drama, set in a house beside a small auto repair shop in one of the less affluent neighborhoods of Manila--Bergman transposed to Southeast Asia, all sweaty and squalid and begrimed. 


Friday, April 21, 2017

T2 Trainspotting (Danny Boyle)

Choose again
  
I remember the experience of seeing Trainspotting for the first time --the drugs; the impenetrable accent; the band of bent-over addicts posed against the highlands as if they were the world's coolest band; The Worst Toilet in Scotland; the baby crawling on the ceiling. It was a high high, never mind the grim message that heroin addiction is a fast lane to nowhere (or as Mark (Ewan McGregor) might put it "fest loanin tae nowhaur"), Danny Boyle's movie was as startling as they came, one of the most vivid entertainments of the '90s. 

Boy we were stupid then weren't we? 


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ghost in the Shell (Rupert Sanders)

Shell sans Ghost

Rupert Sanders' remake of Mamoru Oshii's influential anime Ghost in the Shell is disappointing, but what did they expect anyway? The earlier film's ideas about virtual reality, machine intelligence, and the internet have been digested and absorbed and transmuted by nearly every intelligent science fiction film in the past twenty years, from the Wachowski brothers' (now sisters) The Matrix to Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence and Minority Report (his Dreamworks Studios helped produce this picture) to Cameron's Avatar to Spike Jonze Her to Alex Garland's Ex Machina to Paul WS Anderson's Resident Evil movies, not to mention various episodes of Dr. Who, Legion, and Black Mirror (the latter two arguably being the most inventive science-fiction series at the moment)--and that's only titles I can remember. Oshii's film has been remade several times over, through various interesting and even inspired iterations; Sanders is covering ground that's been thoroughly strip-mined, though one wonders if the subject has been well and truly exhausted (Black Mirror suggests maybe not).  


Thursday, April 06, 2017

The Devils (Ken Russell)

An obscenity

I think The Devils, Ken Russell's fifth big-screen feature, is a culmination of previous works dealing in history (Pop Goes the Easel, The Debussy Film) literary fiction (Women in Love) surreal and sustained passages of cinema (The Music Lovers), the same time it casts a shadow--or glimmers and flashes if you like--over subsequent films: the slippery nature of reality (Altered States) the link between sexual and religious mania (Crimes of Passion) the exploration of mythic origins (Gothic)--here the true story of an entire convent of nuns reportedly possessed by demons in the small town of Loudon. Or put another way: he's explored and experimented throughout his career and thrown everything he's tried and wanted to try into this project, and whenever any film he's directed needs a scene of surpassing strangeness or shock value, he's gone back to this film (or deepwell or treasure chest--or cesspool if you like) for inspiration.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beauty and the Beast (Bill Condon)

Furry tail

I'll say this much for Disney's live-action remake of their animated feature: it improves on one scene, where Belle (Emma Watson) gushes to the Beast (Dan Stevens) about Shakespeare's Verona-set tragic romance. The previous incarnation of Belle sang about her love of books but never once mentioned a title or author, just details about some generic standard-issue romance (Stephenie Meyer? E.L. James?); at least this one volunteers an actual name, a published work, a real writer.

The Beast rolls his eyes--of course she'd pick that! Belle indignantly demands that he suggest a better alternative, and he promptly leads her to his vast library stack, with shelves stretching above and away from her. Yes the earlier flick did turn on their supposed love of literature but in this one you actually feel the sexy give-and-take of two bibliophiles wrangling over their preferred texts. 

And the Beast's eye roll? Who has ever run their fingertips across a sheet of pulped wood and scribbled ink sniffing its heady aroma and hasn't felt some measure of condescension for the relatively uninitiated? It's the movie's best moment, so funny and honest (particularly because the Beast doesn't think much of his expensive education, possibly because it failed to lead to a high-paying job) it actually made me sit up and pay attention for maybe O an entire minute.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Get Out (Jordan Peele)


Get who's coming to dinner

(WARNING: plot twists and ending to be discussed in detail!)

Call Jordan Peele's sneaky-clever directorial debut Get Out his take on Stanley Kramer's insufferably benign racial warmedy Guess Who's Coming To Dinner with knives drawn out midway between the fish course and dessert. The politeness and civility are still there only like a pair of lips drawn taut to conceal fangs.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Logan (James Mangold)


Old man

(Warning! Plot twists and ending discussed in detail)

The good news: James Mangold strikes gold, parlaying the success of his previous superhero production The Wolverine to direct a sequel but on his terms--low-key, character-driven, suffused with an inconsolable melancholy that I suppose is his hallmark.