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Film Log: January 2016 February 8, 2016

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Hollywood, Noypi, Oscars.
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beautybestie

Wenn Deramas has built an empire. Not everyone is happy about it, but it’s futile to deny its existence and power, considering that five of the top ten highest grossing Filipino films of all time are his. There comes a point when dissing his movies becomes unwise — when complaining about his sensibility and brand of humor only ends up as noise — because he continues making films all the same. He doesn’t care. He knows the game. He doesn’t get sick of it. He has developed a formula for attracting people who are willing to give their money and feel good about it. Beauty and the Bestie fulfills its audience because it is what they expect it to be: histrionic, exaggerated, self-aware, ridiculous, tactless, insensitive, full of antics that gloat in its silliness, with Vice Ganda as the ambassador of tackiness. In his empire, the tackier the better. There is hard work and skill in doing all of this, in creating a circus orchestrated for the sake of entertainment, in furnishing Coco Martin with comic timing, which many people don’t care about or don’t care about knowing as long as they are laughing, and clearly there is something Deramas can do that other directors cannot. I enjoyed Beauty and the Bestie because I knew what I was getting. It’s not a dumb movie. Dumb is when you felt stupid after. I didn’t.

*

The hype surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens, based on my social media feed, gave an impression that I might die if I didn’t catch it in its first week. I managed to see it only after the New Year, and I’m still alive. That it passed the Bechdel test is pretty much the only semblance of insight I had while exiting the theater. If you are not a fan of the franchise, where else would you latch on? Would you be engaged in a discussion? Aside from saying, “it’s decent, but its action sequences look limp and unexciting,” what else would light the bulb? Perhaps Internet boyfriend Oscar Isaac?

*

Macbeth was shown with English subtitles because the Scottish accent and language could come across as gibber to some moviegoers. Too bad reading them didn’t prevent me from dozing off — as I had, a couple of times, despite my ethical resolve not to — but fortunately not when Michael Fassbender, as the king, finally realizes he needs to take a bath in the open water, letting the audience take a quick peek of his kingdom. He and Marion Cotillard, unquestionably, are fine actors, but as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the struggle is real. They seem detached from the core. Honestly, could one really say the cinematography is good if it didn’t make the tragedy as compelling as it should?

lumayo

It fills me with dread to talk about Lumayo Ka Nga Sa Akin because it means I would have to grant it time and energy. A double whammy — thinking how it made me sit through it and feel every nuance of dismay and agony, without any moment in any of its three episodes that merits reconsideration, despite my innate optimism that it could have something of value after all. It looks like a rough cut. It misunderstands comedy — its idea of humor is all cheap display of cheap slapstick, and its execution always leans toward making things cheaper (dialogue, plots, acting, skit). The effect on me crosses between wanting to cringe and wanting to leave. It might have been intentional to put Chris Martinez’s episode at the end, as it is the most bearable, but even his attempts at camp couldn’t save it. It’s a mistake to let Bob Ong think his material should be films.

*

Charles Schulz’s beloved characters have moments to show their quirks in The Peanuts Movie, the familiarity rubbing warmly and taking on a cordial tone right at the onset: light, harmless, childish and childlike at the same time, almost pure in its recall of intimacy. Just seeing Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, Snoopy, and Woodstock on the screen is already worth the while, and the deliberate lack of ambition (or ambitiousness) is endearing, especially since it’s obvious it’s targeting a much younger demographic. The film, however, is unable to capture that tacit complexity one feels when reading the strip — a miniature world that reveals a universe of rich overtones in its simple document of everyday interactions — the wisdom in its seemingly random observations and dialogue that makes the reader feel literate. Could having such depth been avoided on purpose?

everythingabouther

Everything About Her has good and bad parts. This can probably be said about most Star Cinema movies — as the fulfillment of formula has made these qualities distinguishable, knowing where it goes well and where it nose-dives — but with Vilma Santos and Joyce Bernal, the desire to endorse it, and make a good case for it despite its inevitable shortcomings, is strong. It is convincing at first, from the start when the characters and conflicts are established and all the way through the piling up of challenges for both female characters. But in an effort to close it with something remarkable and leave the audience with warmth, it decides to be generic and resort to platitudes that dilute the inspired moments, in turn weakening what could have been a moving depiction of female (and maternal) strength. Ate Vi gets away with the many times she repeats herself (her approach and sentiment) from her previous movies, and this showcase of recognizable maternal roles makes her iconic in this regard. But Everything About Her does not find its soul in her but in Angel Locsin, delivering what could be one of the best Star Cinema characters in years.

*

The Big Short is sophisticated, but nothing in it is new — the subject, the storytelling, the dramatic arc, the pacing, the heroic stance, the wires getting tangled and loosened, the moralism — they’ve all been the stuff of American movies endorsed by critics almost every year. Nevertheless it’s interesting to follow the buildup and downfall, especially when it diverts and draws on pop culture, bringing in Margot Robbie, Richard Thaler, Selena Gomez, and Anthony Bourdain to explain the financial concepts and make them sound enticing. The two-hour nonstop talk isn’t off-putting. In fact, the sound of greed, as it passes from one person to another and reaches its peak, is quite delightful.

Don’t Believe Me Just Watch: Top Filipino Films of 2015 January 2, 2016

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian cinema, Cinema One, European Films, Hollywood, MMFF, Noypi, QCinema, Sinag Maynila, Yearender.
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Ari

Over the years, it has been fairly instinctive to preface year-end lists with an apology, as though this admission of shortcoming in the face of supposed responsibility could give more credence to one’s taste or judgment. Clearly there is a popular mindset favoring those who express regret over an inevitable act of selection, and this guilt appeals to fairness. Objectivity is valued highly. Objectivity is observed and aspired. Objectivity, for some people, should be the DNA of criticism. Do not hurt their feelings. Do not make them feel bad. Do not be difficult.

But making lists, lest we forget, is silly. It’s the writer’s vain idea of playing favorites and revealing his “preferences” — for “bias” is too strong a word that is often regarded negatively and with hostility. The most convenient kneejerk reaction to an unfavorable review is to raise the bias of the writer against the work (the genre, the actors, its audience, everything related to it) and that’s fine — but some people overdo it out of spite (and regrettably the Internet offers plenty of room to make them feel good about themselves). It’s a freaking list. It’s not meant to be definitive.

Criticism, at best, is not journalism, and it’s not a matter of saying one is better than the other. Their nature always comes with limitations. Criticism may have the quality of fine journalism — the process: inquisitive, attentive; the presentation: convincing, thorough, challenging, thought-provoking; the writing: sober, piercing — but the ever-contested “objectivity” comes not from the reporting of facts or a fair and ethical standpoint but from the flair of prose and sensation of poetry clasping spot-on assertions and lucid arguments, the critique serving not as a guide but as a supplement — or if it’s that good: nourishment — something held when needed and thrown when not useful. No hard feelings.

Objectively, 2015 is another year for Philippine cinema. One can always claim it is better or worse than the previous years, but why dwell on that? Every year is a different year, and one can choose to do better than use platitudes on a subject ripe with specific achievements and failures, between which are attractive points of conversation: the survival of grant-giving bodies and emergence of new ones; the spirit of independent cinema and its constant struggles that have come to define it; the drive of mainstream films to take advantage of currency (vehicles for new love teams, a much-awaited rom-com sequel, a biopic of a famous religious figure; the constant fascination with mistresses); the allure and annoyance of “hugot” and how it has become a brand; the films of Neal Tan, Don Frasco, Joven Tan, Roi Vinzon, Carlo J. Caparas, and William Mayo, shown bravely despite expectations of drawing a small audience; the unprecedented box-office success of an independently produced historical film and the depth and inanity of discussions surrounding it; the shady disqualification of an MMFF film for a best picture prize, disputing once again the credibility of the organization; the efforts of ABS-CBN to restore and remaster Filipino classics; the undying and upsetting problem of distribution. So many things, and some of them mostly went unnoticed. This is not even taking into account the most important development of the past few years: the thriving of films from the regions, and the attempts to open venues and develop a steady, nurturing audience for them. Interestingly, many films these days, perhaps intuitively, have plotlines or characters with explicit and crucial regional connection. Although the Manila centricity is still there, it is no longer as pervasive as before.

A number of films participated in foreign festivals, but for some reason there’s an impression that filmmakers or producers in general didn’t seem to be wholly concerned, or enthusiastic, about overseas prestige, though this assertion, of course, is hard to substantiate. It’s also likely we may have been producing films that foreign programmers aren’t exactly keen on having. Compared with previous years, when winning abroad would be standard validation, this year winning at local festivals felt more desired. The industry’s big issues are centralized locally, and if you ask me, that’s way better than taking part, for instance, in the usual fuss of getting into the Oscars shortlist every year.

So this would have to end with an apology, after all: I haven’t seen all the movies of 2015. Only Philbert Dy is all-powerful in this regard. But I’ve seen at least ten I find worthy to share with you, or even recommend, plus a few foreign titles I managed to catch in theaters. It goes without saying, but with this being a completely personal selection, the common thread between them is my engagement, whether or not such engagement is influenced by others. Frankly, I have reservations for each film. It is only natural that in this best-of list I emphasize the good, but there is nothing here that I regard blindly. In some cases, the flaws and weaknesses actually contributed to my appreciation.

imbisibol

1. Sometime in March, a decision to step out of the office to de-stress led to something which, nine months later, I would remember fondly as a completely immersive experience. Without a phone or anything as distraction, I watched Imbisibol and was drawn slowly to it — like I flew to Japan and got there while on my seat, feeling the freezing winter and warm company of undocumented Filipino workers making ends meet in hiding — and more than two hours later, with the narrative closing on a high note, I got up dreading the return to the office, not because I might get reprimanded but because I was in a sullen, inconsolable mood. For a film set entirely in a foreign country, Imbisibol is able to depict and explore a distinctly Filipino struggle, linking the unique threads of overseas employment and its constant ups and downs, and the canvas on which the stories are laid holds this complexity that can only come from a mature set of hands and minds. Imbisibol does not depend on romantic promises. It takes time to unfold, and sometimes it takes too much time that the stasis makes the viewer forget what’s happening, like closing one’s eyes to suspend reality for a moment, and when the story starts moving again one can easily feel the throbbing and quieting down. Whereas the original play is said to be more brutal, the film, played out like a mesmerizing visual memory, offers several escape routes, the endpoints of which are uncertain. Substantial comparisons with Batang West Side can be made, but the Hanzel Harana of Imbisibol, the unfortunate Filipino on a foreign land, is not yet dead.

2. I’ve been quite vocal about my love for Sleepless. After seeing it, overwhelmed, I tweeted: “If this movie will propose to me, I will say yes.” And I still feel the same. Of all the films this year, this had the strongest emotional grip on me. The metanarrative of romantic love as something natural between two people in constant communication or intimacy makes sense, but the “small narratives” defined by specific circumstances and nuances of characterization prove to be more satisfying because of efforts, successful in many ways, to revise the genre and its tropes. But is it still a love story without one falling for the other? I think so. Sleepless doesn’t seek to be validated by love. On the contrary, the love hovering around seems to be seeking validation, and it doesn’t happen.

3. At the heart of Ari: My Life with a King is Conrado Guinto, the king of Kapampangan poets, whose kingdom is the native language he tries to keep alive. He is invited to a school program to receive an award, but the mayor doesn’t even bother to listen to his speech and leaves after a photo opportunity. Guinto recites in front of a largely disinterested audience, students and teachers who do not seem to appreciate the art he is being recognized for, the writing and performance of poetry to which he has dedicated most of his life. Unlike his fellow awardees, he doesn’t have any material riches to speak of, not even a car to take him home, or money to lead a comfortable life with his wife, but he takes pride in what he does: he commits himself to the rekindling of interest in Kapampangan language and culture, a thankless job that can barely support him. He is dying, like the cause he is fighting for, and no one, except for a young man he happens to befriend, seems to care. Director Carlo Catu and writer Robby Tantingco, in a heartrending display of humanity, and in innumerable moments of meaningful symbolism, show why losing a man like Guinto does not only mean losing a person but also all his hard work — his life becoming synonymous with his art — and seeing people are indifferent about it is a pain worth being reminded of, always.

HTF

4. Most beautiful things cause pain, and Apocalypse Child has so much hurt in store. It’s hard to watch it without being conscious of the weight underneath, which, bit by bit, begins to surface as the characters test each other’s vulnerability just by being together, or just by sharing the silence. It’s been a while since a drama of this scale and range is produced, the years spent on research and incubation unmistakably felt in the edges, with how Mario Cornejo’s direction tightens Monster Jimenez’s script with ruthless calm, how the tension is built based on breathing intervals. The shooting of Apocalypse Now in Baler in the 70s — its effect on the people and how it led to the birth of surfing in the town — serves as a hook, but like a healing wound, it is felt only when hit. It is a loaded memory, one that carries consequences in the present. The dynamics built around it take care of the spooling: those folks who have stayed and left and returned since then, the town and its charming tall tales, the unsettled scores and unspoken regrets, the inclination to simply let things happen, que sera sera. Cornejo and Jimenez create a deep focal point where all of them come together and tussle, and a wrecking ball, out of the blue, looms in sight to destroy them. Fuck, this movie still owes me a drink.

5. Much bigger than the uproar caused by the disqualification case with the MMFF, which further exposes the ills of a long-existing system that continues to impair filmmakers and moviegoers, is the subject of Honor Thy Father, and it’s not an overreaction to say that these two issues are connected. Instances of challenging religious organizations have a widely documented history of actions resulting in cruelty and bloodshed, and although this link seems too hyperbolic in this case, it is not hard to imagine that Erik Matti drew the ire of several parties and something was done about it. Ishmael Bernal was there first: examining the vicissitudes of faith in relation to making stupid decisions with dire consequences — and in similar vein Matti, through a script written by Michiko Yamamoto, makes the association sharper and harder to dispute. Ponzi and pyramiding schemes are usually the butt of jokes these days, but it is never funny when lives are at stake, and when this faith in easy money crumbles with the prospect of losing everything. Any kind of faith is tricky — even the modus of acetylene gang members is built on the belief that at the end of each explosion is a pot of gold — and everyone has their own reasons, mostly for their own benefit. The courage of Honor Thy Father to bring mostly untouchable matters to light is not wasted on thin and half-baked claims: its power comes from being a riveting, persuasive, and enraging piece of work that raises its voice at the right place and time.

6. There appear to be no more stones left unturned for Heneral Luna, and what it has become in several months of social media hysteria certainly owes to what it is: a compelling historical biopic with a strong, meme-able central character, the narrative designed (and at times injected with fictional elements) to emphasize dramatic contradictions, and the research, sufficient as it is, tailored to make it reachable to audiences. This happens to be Jerrold Tarog’s foremost skill: the ability to make it accessible, striking a balance between something too deep and too dumb, and letting his viewers feel something worthy to be giddy about — a display of sentimentality hitting a sensitive nerve — or making them feel challenged to argue. History, especially its interpretation, will always be taken personally by some, and the desire for change in present society often entails looking back into the past for lessons, no matter how different the circumstances may be. Heneral Luna has opened a lot of boxes, large and small, some empty and some occupied, but above all else it proves it can be done — the basic indie spirit driving it — and whether or not this is a mere fluke is as dependent on the next film as it is on the audience. It is never one-way. Producers Ed Rocha and Fernando Ortigas, aware that its success won’t be repeated soon, went on to fund more films (for QCinema, Cinema One Originals, and MMFF) afterward.

manangbiring

7. Dayang Asu hardly looks back. Its impulse is to move forward, and this doggedness to follow a straight path, understandably, has its faults. But by sticking to what he wants, Bor Ocampo renders a quietly disturbing mapping of the stages of corruption, with varying intensities, from how its seed is planted, how it grows, and how it bears fruit. And it goes on because the soil is always fertile. Evil is infinite and hard to subvert. At some point, the numbness sets in.

8. This kind of numbness, whose effect is similar to a tight grip on the neck, isn’t present in Water Lemon. It is gentle and thoughtful, and sometimes it’s too engrossed in itself that it overlooks some excesses. It is the second time Lorca pays tribute to his beloved hometown, and it’s an improvement from Mauban: Ang Resiko because the characters are not just living in the place but they also have memories in it, the drama hinging on moments when their strength is tested. The attachment is mostly sentimental, and Lorca and writer Lilit Reyes are able to make the audience feel why places can sometimes offer better comfort than people.

9. Carl Papa submitted the script of Manang Biring to QCinema and Cinema One Originals, and in both cases, by a quirk of fate, it was assigned to me. It was a thick manuscript, more than a hundred pages, and if Papa only knew that my mother died of breast cancer three years ago and was also called “Biring” by friends, I’m sure he would be worried it went to my hands. Needless to say, it ruined me, and I endorsed it to both committees. The concern had always been about feasibility, given the limited amount of time for production, since he wanted to do rotoscoping and won’t do it any other way, despite my advice that maybe — just maybe — it could work better conventionally. Good thing he didn’t listen and insisted on his plan. Manang Biring is a first in Philippine cinema, and such achievement won’t mean a lot had it been awful or mediocre — but it isn’t, for no matter how crude and uneven the visuals and telling may be, the story of a mother doing everything to extend her life for her daughter leaves a most indelible impression, tears included. “Merry Christmas, Nita” remains the saddest line of the year.

10. Sherad Anthony Sanchez doesn’t seem to be particularly proud of Salvage, his first foray into commercial work, but I’d like to think of it as an experiment — as he is (or has always been) an experimental filmmaker — that yields interesting results. The mainstream discipline is not his zone, and part of what makes Salvage engaging is seeing his efforts (and struggle) to inject new ideas into the found footage aesthetic and pulling them off most of the time. There are legit scares that leap out of the normal, shaking things up when things feel too safe and comfortable, and Sanchez, knowing his cunning based on his previous films, appears to be putting things that don’t appear clear and present at first watch. As the narrative moves forward, the more it becomes challenging because — what is happening? Its political statements are never ambiguous, and fortunately, unlike the characters, they manage to reach the audience quite safely.

Inching close: Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore (Khavn dela Cruz), Hamog (Ralston Jover), Taklub (Brillante Mendoza), Tandem (King Palisoc), The Crescent Rising (Sheron Dayoc)

thepresident

1. The President (Mohsen Makhmalbaf)

2. Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

3. Victoria (Sebastian Schipper)

4. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sangsoo)

5. The Treasure (Corneliu Porumboiu)

6. Tangerine (Sean Baker)

7. Inside Out (Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen)

8. Cemetery of Splendour (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

9. Mustang (Deniz Gamze Ergüven)

10. A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (Roy Andersson)

Film Log #1 February 10, 2012

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Oscars.
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THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (David Fincher, 2011)

This is the Fincher of Benjamin Button—epicurean, long-winded, and predictable—armed with such skill in creating a deceitful sweep that bores as much as it hypnotizes. He makes it clear that length is permissible as long as the characters onscreen are mystifyingly troubled, willfully suggesting that Erika Berger, Holger Palmgren, Dragan Armansky, or Millenium, whose head office and staff members are crucial elements in the book, are of little use as far as movie spectacle is concerned. His ability to deliver has been put to test by the structural complexity of the material, made even harder by Larsson’s lack of restraint. But Fincher, with a flashlight in hand, lets the flames glow in every corner, acknowledging the prosaic quality of the book by translating it into frosty visuals, and even frostier characterizations by Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig. The trilogy has attracted film producers not because of its subject (men who hate women, how new!) but because of its lead character, Lisbeth Salander, and the challenge of portraying her onscreen. Mara makes some impressive nuances, her offscreen presence in particular is wisely calculated, but her case falls into the category of the whole not being greater than the sum of its parts. Craig complements her a lot, and she heats his beef very well. Fincher makes the bedlam less chaotic and struggles when the third act comes in, losing his grip when the detectives find the missing piece. The opening credits and the use of Enya are by all means brilliant, but the sight of Craig’s butt crack is the most nerve-racking moment in the film. B-

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL (Brad Bird, 2011)

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol opens up in all sorts of unexpected directions and the type of mess it leaks works surprisingly well because Brad Bird allows the action sequences to breathe, the buildup and follow through providing some sort of polish, punctuating the series of over-the-top stunts and the exhilarating sheen they produce. There are dangerous edges, most of which are served as desserts and appetizers, but they are in fact the meatiest aspect of the movie—the impossibility of the mission addressed rather than ignored, making the sketchy minutiae throttle even to the unimpressionable. Stress is written all over Tom Cruise’s face, and it’s not a tiring sight to look at. Like a drowning man rising to the surface for the last time, he is unmoved by anything, unfazed by an almost non-existent threat, and unimpressed even by the Burj Khalifa or an impending sandstorm. Paula Patton fits the part, Jeremy Renner does some hilarious stretches, and Simon Pegg is uncontrollably smart and funny. So who needs meat and potatoes when one is caught like a deer in the headlights? B+


HAYWIRE (Steven Soderbergh, 2011)

In this age of expensively-made movies that rely heavily on unnecessary noise and dizzying visual effects, a film like Haywire feels like a joke, and holy shit what a good joke it is. Steven Soderbergh shows again his penchant for multi-character narratives, and though he’s working on a very conventional story, he still manages to tell it adventurously, one that looks so old-fashioned even its disruptive flashbacks still seem rational. Soderbergh toys with the storytelling, moving to and fro as the main character, an undercover agent played by martial artist Gina Carano, seeks the truth about a mission that eventually puts her between a rock and a hard place. The movie reaches its peak whenever Carano finds herself in a fight. All the running and boxing and thumping provide a sense of frightening reality in her dilemma, the exchange of blows sounding brutally raw and authentic, the lack of blood making it even more startling. Too bad these sequences are just few—Soderbergh should have made them the movie’s main attraction—but props go to Carano for kicking all the guys’ arses. She even shoots a steamy Michael Fassbender in the face. Blimey! What a man-eater! B+


DRIVE (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011)

For a crime movie, Drive doesn’t feature gripping car chases—the ones in it don’t even come close to the terrifying road pursuit in James Gray’s We Own the Night—but it has Ryan Gosling, and girls know that his presence makes a huge difference. He delivers a fine performance, all right, but it’s an aspect of the film that most people tend to overrate. He is a charmer, but with that lick-worthy, puppy face it is hard to believe that he works as a stuntman, mechanic, and getaway driver all at once. Although on second thought, it’s completely possible that he drives the wheel with his dick, or he punches every suspicious-looking guy he sees in the elevator. He’s the movie’s windshield wiper—once he’s on, the landscape becomes clear. The old-school neon-bright opening credits set the tone for the film, which are probably meant to downplay the melodrama, but several elements of the film (the use of slow-motion and somber ambient music) emphasize it even more. The movie mixes genres that glorify men in heist movies, B-movies, westerns, and revisionist forms of them, especially in the amount of explicit and implicit details given to Gosling’s character. Everything about Drive is driven by tastefulness: orgasmic for arty moviegoers but distressing for people looking forward to flirting with Gosling’s abs. B  

THE TREE OF LIFE (Terrence Malick, 2011)

Never in his forty-year career as a filmmaker has Terrence Malick preferred the easy way. Like Kubrick and Pynchon, he’s a slow burner, and The Tree of Life, his fifth feature film that had its early roots after the release of Days of Heaven, reveals more of himself than he might have intended, details that could have added to the film’s divisive and polarizing nature. Given the landscape of world cinema nowadays, it’s one of those art pieces that’s almost impossible to make, both in financial and ideological terms, because which producer would gamble on filming compassionate dinosaurs and beautiful jellyfish? With the exception of Godard, who among the legends of the 60s and 70s is still alive to partake in mindblowing existential sports? The film can be interpreted in innumerable and immeasurable ways, so terrifying that it feels like a summation of many things from the world and beyond, a Moebius strip of ideas containing the totality of nothing and everything, and Malick, owing to his overwhelming talent and humility, allows his audience to take a look at the instrument he created, something that provides a microscopical and telescopical view of humanity. What do you see? What do you not see? What do you feel? What do you not feel? Are moviegoers too comfortable with parsimony that The Tree of Life is regarded as some sort of insult, a movie whose all-encompassing knowledge and spiritual ambition become its bane? A-

Limitless (Neil Burger, 2011) April 26, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
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Directed by Neil Burger
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Robert de Niro, Abbie Cornish
Based on “The Dark Fields” by Alan Glynn

At the center of Limitless is greed. It propels the movie and its main character to establish the fact that human beings, given the opportunity to possess immunity to weakness, are wont to satisfy their selfish ambitions, regardless of their scruples. Of course: there is more to life than eating and getting bigger, but just by looking at Bradley Cooper’s eyes, it’s obvious that no one is exempted from the food chain. What his character does, upon the smallest entrance of hope, is some kind of reflex, a normal reaction to a possibility that opens to many unbelievable possibilities. Greed takes over him because he is made up of greed. He was borne out of greed. His parents are Father Greed and Mother Greed. His siblings are Sister Greed and Brother Greed. The movie, in a way, goes out on a limb to suggest that Eddie Mora is the id that speaks for our natural impulses: avoiding pain and wanting pleasure. Given the chance, we will also end up like him and make the same decisions, travel the same path, and be driven by the same megalomaniac purpose to take on the world and come out meaningless, trivial, and diabolic. But hey, life is short.

Source Code (Duncan Jones, 2011) April 9, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Sci-fi, War.
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Written by Ben Ripley
Directed by Duncan Jones
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan

First five minutes of Source Code and I am all ready to call it the best movie of the year. That part when Jake Gyllenhaal enters the bathroom, looks at the mirror, and sees a different person: that can only come from a whiz. Duncan Jones handles suspense like picking a fresh pineapple from a farm, slicing and canning it in less than a minute. Swift and no-nonsense. No profound ideas, no quirky setup, no cleverness, no inception. Just carrying through a brilliant idea without too much posturing and panache. Imagine Groundhog Day with a whole lot of wires and explosions, starring a drop-dead gorgeous Bill Murray.

Although the themes of both films are like chalk and cheese, Moon and Source Code actually share a striking resemblance. There’s a man at the center, a man whose fate is uncertain, a man who’s trapped inside a chamber. Incidentally, he’s also a man whose doom is inevitable. In both films, there is an uncanny fixation on possibilities, rooted in science but whose effects are totally anthropological, more humane than humanistic, less emotive than emotional. Furthermore, there exists a voice. Kevin Spacey’s Gerty, not for purposes of irony, is more dependable than Sam Bell, the same way that Vera Farmiga, whose voice we first hear before seeing her face, has control over Jake, keeping the narrative of Source Code moving because of the information she knows.

We hold onto her not because we are forced to, but because we want to. In the context of the entire “experiment” and in the aftermath of her decision to break a rule, she is the most crucial person in Jake’s life. Her action is ultimately the reason for that feeling of levity at the end, that expression of disbelief as we see ourselves giving in to the cruelty of it all. That dramatic slo-mo freeze sequence lingers a bit but never for a fraction of a second it looks insincere. Jones presents these possibilities, but in the grand scheme of things, when time comes that these opportunities are provided, these wishful ideas no longer seem important. Too many forks in the road, and less time to reflect on priorities.

I do not exaggerate when I say that Jones’ two films remind me of Kubrick’s best works. In Moon it’s quite obvious. But in Source Code, it is really the technical dexterity that leaves teethmarks. Style and substance manage to mean the same thing, no questions asked, because they really do. The music participates in the action but rarely does it give an impression of self-importance. The camera movements are intricately choreographed, every scene seems to happen in the corner of your eye, and little details work their way through your memory. Kubrick is a master of form, and Jones, come three or four films of the same caliber, is surely becoming one too. In my opinion, the most remarkable praise given to Full Metal Jacket is when someone called it a “pacifist movie,” which, on the surface of the statement, is quite similar to calling Salo a “very spiritual film.” Almost on the same line of thinking, Source Code is actually one of the best antiwar movies ever made, one whose sentiments are more directed towards people in military uniforms than men in lab coats. But that’s quite obvious too.

Best Movies of 2010 March 25, 2011

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, European Films, Hollywood, Literature, Noypi, Yearender.
12 comments

BEST MOVIE POSTERS

BEST SHORT FILMS

SPECIAL MENTION

BEST PERFORMANCES

The delay was necessary, or so I thought. But should I put a finger on something, it’s goddamn work. It always is! A day job sucks the life out of you, and it really sucked the life out of me in the last few months. Up to now, in fact. Writing personal stuff is becoming every bit of a chore, which basically defeats its purpose, but the least I can do is try. After all, aiming and missing is the whole premise.

As a latecomer, I wish I could make up for the trouble by upping the quality of writing, but crap, forget it. I was just happy that it’s done and you’re patiently reading it. While I was doing this, I was aware that some friends had already finished doing their own lists. I constantly peeked through them from time to time. Dodo Dayao shies away from ranking, but his favorites are fairly obvious. It’s a fantastic selection, which goes without saying, one that makes me a bit insecure. Oggs Cruz’s yearend list is devoted to local movies, half of which I may not be in agreement, but he manages to write a valuable roundup of some noteworthy upshots in Philippine cinema of the past year, so go read it. Noel Vera shares Oggs’ pick for the best film of the year, which is Mario O’Hara’s Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio. Noel differentiates “best” from “notable” and provides a number of interesting recommendations, some of which I have yet to see (Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Girl on the Train, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Secret of Kells, and actually, Ang Paglilitis).

On the other hand, Philbert Dy thinks that Kano is the best movie of the year, calling it ‘finely crafted and keenly observed.” Sanriel Ajero does a comprehensive record of Filipino and foreign movies, a very tedious task, and his efforts are truly impressive. Adrian Mendizabal’s selection is also interesting, and his choices cover films not only released in 2010. And lastly, my good friend Ayn Dimaya, upon my insistence (lol), has also started writing down her thoughts, but she left it unfinished so… Ayn!

Anyway, here we go.

25. The Ghost Writer
[Roman Polanski]

The latest from Polanski features a lot of political goofs made even more hilarious because they truly happened. Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, and Olivia Williams talk and talk and talk, run and run and run, like they don’t have any clothes on, and Polanski chases them with a burning torch in hand before wrapping the show in an outrageous close.

24. The Housemaid
[Im Sang-soo]

Oh yes, only the Koreans can do it. That sweet smell of success laced in dark, brooding revenge, that evil giving a whiff of Victoria Secret, clad in chic chauvinist veneer. One of the many proofs that Asians can remake their own films and still make them work, whereas Hollywood sucks at almost every attempt.

23. Easy A
[Will Gluck]

For classical lit poseurs, Easy A makes Nathaniel Hawthorne seem like a fun guy to hang out with, much like when Amy Heckerling made Jane Austen seem like a ghost writer for Sweet Valley High. I’d love to single out every homage to 80s movies that sends me on a laughing spree, but it’s the “Knock on Wood” number that limbers me up, a wonderful sequence that makes me want to hold a prayer vigil for the existence of a rewind button.

22. Ang Panagtagbo sa Akong mga Apohan
[Malaya Camporedondo]

It’s always touching to listen to old people share their stories. The distinct tone of their voices, the lines on their faces, the whiteness of their hair, and more importantly, the gleam in their eyes provide a warm embrace. In her film, Malaya Camporedondo interviews her grandmothers and other elders in Samal Island who were there when the Moncadistas started to flourish in the 50s. Not only has she come up with an enlightening picture of youth driven by faith, but she has also managed to return to her roots and paint a family portrait that is both personal and intimate.

21. Somewhere
[Sofia Coppola]

Distance in Sofia Coppola’s films is rather hard to define. While it’s obvious that she’s aiming for both its literal and figurative sense, it hardly matters, since the most remarkable quality of her works is their ability to slip through your fingers even if you’re holding them tight. In Somewhere, she follows an actor promoting his recent film, his time at the hotel and on the road, his trip to Italy, his relationship with his young daughter, his glorious time with a pair of pole-dancers, his bouts with narcolepsy (like, dozing off in the middle of foreplay), his sexual encounters—basically his easy and luxurious life, treated so mundane the movie seems to shy away from any interpretation aside from what’s onscreen. How Coppola seems to tiptoe in every narrative turn—laying claim to her denial of self-importance, implying a lot while saying so little—makes the drowsy aftertaste and droopy eyelids worth the time.

20. Agrarian Utopia
[Uruphong Raksasad]

Depending on how you look at it, the “utopia” in the title is partly true and partly false. The shots of blue skies, windstruck fields, and children running about in the mud fulfill the description of an ideal life, evoking carefreeness and freedom. On the other hand, the story of two families trying to make ends meet, harvesting rice, picking mushrooms, hunting frogs, and shooting dogs is a reminder of that pitiful gap between the rich and the poor, the depressing omnipresence of poverty. But looking at these people’s lives, never does the audience get any sense of irony, or any indication of an attempt to suggest a figure of speech, of art trying to be relevant. Agrarian Utopia captures what a good documentary should capture, and that is both the external and internal surroundings of its people, declining to pass judgment and succeeding to impart an honest depiction of life on the seams.

19. How To Train Your Dragon
[Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois]

The title seems to leave nothing to the imagination, considering how it connotes childishness and immaturity, but in actuality the film has a whole universe to offer. How to Train Your Dragon grows a spectacular pair of wings sequence after sequence, flight after flight, and spectacle after spectacle. It harks back to that specific phase in your childhood that you wish will happen again, that dream of reaching the skies and falling from them with a bite of clouds between your teeth.

18. I Am Love
[Luca Guadagnino]

I say this not out of self-defense, but most of the films I enjoy watching are imperfect. My appreciation stems from the fact that the movie, I am Love for instance, deliberately makes a wrong move, a misstep that avoids the usual direction forward, finding a dirt road that may not be as satisfactory as the common route, but in the end offering a number of surprises. And the driver here, of all the sane chauffeurs to chance upon, is Tilda Swinton. Seeing her character slowly take shape, she resembles a grenade waiting for the right moment to explode. Which she happened to do, eventually. Case in point: that scene when she tensely walks down the stairs towards the kitchen and kisses her lover. Heedless of the eyes around them, she goes to him driven by an impulse to hold him, and the camera smoothly navigates her path. The film’s visuals, which evoke the obliviousness of high-class society, are carefully shot with sophistication, looking vintage yet far from being contemporarily out of place. The film doesn’t force you to love its madness, but it’s something you cannot resist.

17. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
[Edgar Wright]

Right when the term hipster is about to be considered ancient, like, what exactly is this freaking youth culture, what constitutes it, who are these annoying people, why are they dumping their shit in every place they put their fucking feet on, not to mention the inanity and ridiculousness of bringing up the topic in the first place, comes a film which, in my opinion, epically, totally, and awesomely defines it. (Breathe. Canadian hipster check: multiple commas are cool, eh?) But the thing is, hipster culture is anything but exact. You might as well ride along with it, and Wright does that, beyond reasonable limits. Genre-smashing is such a reckless way press releases describe Scott Pilgrim, but upon seeing a work that’s fine, fresh, and fierce (whoa, Katy Pery alliterations, so-not-hipster!), it doesn’t matter whether or not you have read the books or have listened to Plumtree. There’s still a lot of junk space in the world for all the geeks and smarty-pants to jerk off.

16. White Material
[Claire Denis]

I do think that Claire Denis is the finest French filmmaker working today. Except for Beau Travail, her movies are never flat-out exceptional, but they leave you feeling awfully disturbed and subservient to the progressiveness of her ideas. She’s very good at blending her personal experiences and political stance with the fastidiousness of her filmmaking style. In White Material, she takes up the subject of race in an unnamed French-speaking country in Africa, where a civil war is ongoing and a family of “white people” owns a coffee plantation. The narrative travels to and fro; and the line between reminiscence and present-day is somewhat indistinct. But everything moves in accordance with Denis’ rueful pace. Nicolas Duvauchelle steals the show with his cranky, rifle-toting, and stellar portrayal of the white family’s son, innocently naked in one of his few appearances in the film, but it is Isabelle Huppert who walks away with a piece of our crazy heart, crushing it as the credits start to roll, closing the film with more questions and less hints of hope.

15. Bluebeard
[Catherine Breillat]

The first thing you notice after watching Bluebeard is its terseness. For a span of 80 short minutes, Breillat is able to narrate two stories, both of which relate to Charles Perrault’s infamous tale. One recreates the original story of Bluebeard and his curious new wife; the other revolves around two young girls reading the book, kids who have completely opposite personalities, and whose names (Catherine and Marie-Anne) are actual first names of Breillat and her older sister. The matter-of-factly connection between the two narratives, which the director herself handles with unabashed distance, contributes to the film’s tautness, leaving an impression of dryness. But this flat and clinical treatment is where the movie derives its power. Breillat no longer relies on her usual themes of sex and power but she still manages to inject strength and wisdom in her female characters, particularly in the modern-day Catherine reading the fairy tale to her frightened older sister, mirroring Breillat’s own unorthodox beliefs. The movie’s striking storybook composition is pulled down by the unimpressive costume design, a nitpick worthy of mention, but the shoddiness only makes you feel humbled by Breillat’s intention, which is simply to acknowledge one of her many influences, skinning the story to spooky bits and keeping its moral eternally relevant.

14. Mondomanila / Son of God
[Khavn dela Cruz]

Quite like teaching old dogs new tricks, but Khavn is neither old nor lacking in new tricks in these two filthy works that only keep him closer to the throes of flames. The former is an adaptation of Iwa Wilwayco’s novel, not a bit disappointing because Khavn teams up with Iwa in writing the screenplay and the two are like brothers raised in hell, dragging anyone to it. The second is a collaboration with Danish filmmaker Michael Noer, which is supposed to make a difference, only it doesn’t, because Khavn tricks Noer and Noer tricks Khavn as they mess with faith and reveal the hypocrisies of some of its followers, irreverence being Khavn’s finest dish.

13. Exit Through the Gift Shop
[Banksy]

If you notice, most documentaries that garnered considerable attention recently were those thought to fall under the sub-genre of “mockumentary,” or what they call “a brilliantly executed prank.” There’s quite a handful this year—I’m Still Here, Catfish, Exit Through the Gift Shop—three engrossing documentaries whose premises are so good, you no longer care if they are a set-up or not. And if the filmmaker in question is an enigma as slippery as Banksy, then mischief is surely lurking behind. Exit Through the Gift Shop works not only as a glimpse to the disobedient world of street art but also as a sort-of-Being-John-Malkovich torture of being inside Thierry Guetta’s mind and hearing his upsettingly preposterous thoughts on art and life. Sitting through the film is like watching Banksy fall from a cliff, only to see him fly on a parachute right before the movie ends, chuckling at his own cleverness.

12. The Kids Are All Right
[Lisa Cholodenko]

It’s hard not to be moved by the sheer simplicity of The Kids Are All Right. All the touchstones of excellent moviemaking are here—impeccable writing, credible actors, subtle direction, a cunning sensibility, and some fine music (Annette Benning and Mark Ruffalo singing Joni Mitchell)—but never does Cholodenko go overboard, and never does she shove any staple of morality down to the audience’s throats, except for the prison it creates. Instead, she wraps an otherwise stale gay movie in a bittersweet suburban prank, showing how curiosity can easily turn life into one massive joke whose damage, by the time everything sinks in, is completely irreparable.

11. No Distance Left to Run
[Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace]

During their gig at Glastonbury in June 2009, Blur briefly left the stage for a break. But the members of the crowd couldn’t get enough of them so they continued to sing Graham’s verse from “Tender,” out of sync but never out of spirit. Oh my baby / Oh my baby / Oh why / Oh my. Damon looked so astonished he raised his hands in awe. It was an ecstatic, hair-rising moment which Dylan Southern and Will Lovelace managed to capture in their documentary, providing a meaningful and touching bookend not only to Blur’s story but also to their fans’. The mix of stunning archival footage from their early tours (some crazy moments like Damon and Graham kissing, fangirls pounding on the door of a hotel, various displays of the band’s stage antics) and recent interviews where each one of them, including Alex and Dave, talks about their comeback is done with a bit of restraint, but everything’s lovely and amusing nonetheless. These interviews are actually the best bits; when you listen to their stories, when you realize how much they aged, when you feel how much they changed and how much they didn’t—your eyes just start to well up. It takes a while before euphoria starts to wear off, but when it does, it has certainly flown you far enough.

10. Catfish
[Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost]

While it’s understandable that many people are charmed by The Social Network, it still makes me a bit uneasy when I hear it called “the film of our generation.” That’s quite a vague thing to say, considering that “generation” will always have a beginning and an end. If the generation these people are referring to is the age of Facebook, then certainly it hasn’t ended yet, has it? So why pick a movie to represent it this early? Is it because belongingness to a huge community qualifies the need for fast and immature pronouncements? Or is it because—how foolish can you get—the film is able to “humanize” Mark Zuckerberg, whom most of these people, allegedly, have related to? Oh, come on, gimme a break. If anything, Catfish has more of that “emotional truth” than The Social Network.

The question of whether or not everything is just a harsh setup is answered at the end, not by the filmmakers but by our similarly gullible selves. As we look at Angela speaking to Nev (like Michael Moore trying to reach out to Charlton Heston, only with more heart), confessing to him and complimenting his beautiful teeth, the feeling of sorriness moves between them before it is passed onto us. Catfish is able to put forth a redefinition of romance—of cyber romance, to be exact—one whose seed is planted on imaginary soil, watered by imaginary water, and nurtured by imaginary affection. I can’t blame Angela for wanting Nev—he’s young, attractive, and bursting with life—and the extent of her obsession, of her desire to have her love reciprocated, isn’t far from our own. She has actually done what we haven’t; only these guys, a little too narcissistic for their own good, had taken the liberty to make a film about it. The cruelty is the difference.

9. Ang Mundo sa Panahon ng Bato
[Mes de Guzman]

The last time rumors came my way, Mes was residing in Nueva Vizcaya, settled down and enjoying married life as a barriotic punk. But no one told me that he’s still doing films, and films that only he can do. Bato is the second in his Earth Trilogy, coming after Yelo and before Bakal, and it’s quite a harrowing piece of shit I’m willing to eat. Mes shoots town children diving for gold mines in a muddy creek, soaked in grubby briefs, forced to scuba their way down the sludge. In his casual leisurely style, he keeps his distance without losing his grip on their starving innocent souls, leaving the audience a climax that shatters as much as it disheartens.

8. Sketches of Kaitan City
[Kazuyoshi Kumakiri]

The film is just like that— sketches—but every stroke of its pencil reveals features that smudge evenly, details that start to take shape like buildings embraced by thick fog, stories that defrost and melt and burn our throats the moment we knock out the fifth glass of whiskey. Kaitan City fits the idea of Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town.”

7. Rabbit Hole
[John Cameron Mitchell]

“A brick in your pocket” is that image in Rabbit Hole that sticks out, thanks to Dianne Wiest and Nicole Kidman. But what it truly feels like, upon seeing Becca and Howie cope with the loss of their son, is “a knife in the chest,” a stab that hurts more than it has to, a wound that stings like hell. It’s a carelessly imaginative way to describe it, considering the movie has its share of awful criticism, which, in all frankness, every great movie deserves, but it’s so easy to be hard on Rabbit Hole. It’s a movie in which hope is present but it fails to materialize, and in which faith is actually reasonable, that is: god, in fact, watches you suffer. Mitchell presents the story very well—too polished, too calculated, and too fine-tuned—to the point that it seems to bore, to the point that it seems to kill the viewer with its agonizing fineness. Nicole brings to life another ice queen, but one that is so deliberately delivered you wouldn’t mind pulling her out of the wreck with your bare hands. Indeed not every beauty is a pleasure to look at.

6. Senior Year
[Jerrold Tarog]

Making it look easy is the hardest, especially when the strings are thin and the subject is the misty rendezvous of all things indelible, but Jerrold Tarog, in his third full length, sews the holes and stitches the hems of a high school reunion with a dirty finger, soiling every page with unbearable lightness, loosening his wits with a monkey wrench, and succeeding where Pisay, unfortunately, loses hold.

5. The American
[Anton Corbijn]

Why don’t we ask Corbijn to make a career out of doing biopics? Because even if he doesn’t intend to, he still ends up doing one, like this masterly thriller set in gorgeous Italy, where Andrea Camilleri might have taken one of his naps before meeting up with Professor Montalbano. Corbijn follows Clooney from head to toe, walks beside him, behind him, over him, above him, sneaks up everywhere he goes, and lets us memorize every contour on his face and every muscle he flexes. Everything in The American works elegantly, from its simple sonorities down to its nifty revelations that make the ordinary leap out amid the truce, its mere silence overshadowing all the bombastic, fried-brained blockbusters released last year.

4. Another Year
[Mike Leigh]

Family has always been the weightiest entry on Mike Leigh’s dictionary. Over the years, he has constantly and consistently rummaged through every foul corner of the household and delivered, in the most painful way, remarkable portraits of adulthood. Another Year doesn’t bank on surprising turns of the narrative or ugly confrontations, but on the brilliance of its tempered writing and flawless ensemble of actors. Its feat, which also holds true in most of Leigh’s movies, is having you as part of the family and its members’ acquaintances, sharing their dinner and clinking glasses, witnessing the sad realities faced by these people, old fogies complaining how “everything in the world is for young people,” loveless blokes trying to keep their heads above water and failing at it. The moment the film fades out, you get the feeling that it has only just begun, that no matter how many seasons pass, how to survive another day and year is always a struggle to figure out.

3. Certified Copy
[Abbas Kiarostami]

For quite some time, Iranian cinema was represented—and more or less defined—by Abbas Kiarostami. The works of Mohsen Makhmalbaf, his daughter Samira, Majid Majidi, Bahman Gobadi, Jafar Panahi, and other lesser known Iranian directors always had to stand alongside Kiarostami’s movies. But fortunately, Iranian cinema has moved on since his historical win at Cannes for Taste of Cherry. Older films are being rediscovered, canons are being pronounced, and DVDs of these movies are being released with subtitles for international audience. Kiarostami’s greatest contribution to world cinema is actually to his own country, enlivening its film industry by encouraging scholars and archivists to care for its almost forgotten movies.

Which is why his new film, aptly called Certified Copy, is a cause for celebration. It’s his first work produced and shot outside Iran; it stars French icon Juliette Binoche and British opera singer William Shimell; its dialogues are written in three languages; it is set in Tuscany; it exemplifies Kiarostami’s perfection of his themes and visual style, and above everything else, it’s goddamn talkative. You could immediately see the sleight of hand in the first few sequences, how, in every tangle of the couple’s conversations, you see strings attached and, by virtue of acknowledging their presence, you simply don’t care. Oftentimes, Certified Copy takes a bewildering turn that only makes you appreciate the technique even more, let alone the almost unrecognizable pomposity.

Furthermore, Binoche and Shimell deliver luminous performances, acting pieces that travel the length between simple and complex, mundane and otherworldly, infuriating and gratifying, both of them egging Kiarostami to play with our emotions. It’s a movie that pulls its surprises randomly; and at some point, it seems that Kiarostami, like his pair of actors, strangers among strangers, is doing a copy of himself, mocking his own style, and reveling in non-sequiturs. In that case, it’s only natural to respond in awe.

2. Love in a Puff
[Pang Ho-cheung]

At the onset of Pang Ho-Cheung’s Love in a Puff, you hear a group of Hong Kong people talk and make fun of each other, telling ghost stories and sharing gossips, obviously trying to idle away from work and squeezing in as much entertainment as they could during their fag breaks. It’s the most beautiful aspect of the movie—how, in its aim to share a love story that everyone has at least once experienced, or has seen at the movies or in the telly, it has also let the city enter and participate in Jimmy and Cherie’s romance, like a close friend who’s just a text message away. Hong Kong feels that way in the film: never a stranger but a good old pal. Its dwellers sink into its charm. Sometimes, watching it feels like being trapped in a sappy David Pomeranz song, but once a memorable scene gets into you, you realize that Jimmy and Cherie seem more like strolling down the meaningful spaces of a French movie, or wandering in that Woody Allen film where he and Diane Keaton fall in love and fall out of it. The experience is forgettable in an unforgettable way.

1. Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria
[Remton Siega Zuasola]

On those two occasions when I was asked to introduce Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria, I felt extremely nervous. On one hand: how can I not seize the opportunity to have an audience who will listen to what I have to say? How can I refuse a request on account of self-embarrassment? But the danger lies on the other: how do I put into words my opinion of it? How do I talk sensibly and sound convincing? I made some efforts, mind you—I read notes, I spoke to Remton, I tried to stress the importance of cinema from the regions to foreigners at Alliance—but the happiest thing for me above all else is seeing the film again, and hearing the reactions of the audience. That’s priceless, because I don’t get this chance often, I don’t usually get to answer questions on subjects which I believe I’m knowledgeable of, I don’t usually feel the pride of being part of a movie’s deserved critical praise. At this point, you actually have the right to doubt me: I’m writing this in purely personal terms. But what’s the point of criticism if it doesn’t spring from the personal? How do you draw the line between honest appreciation and reasonable prejudice? You don’t.

Remton Zuasola used to be a director of travel shows on television, so it’s just natural, dare I say impulsive, that he makes a film about voyages. The surprising thing about it though, for a movie that is completely Cebuano, is that the theme of Damgo strikes you as very familiar. Everyone knows it. It’s a terrain in which local scriptwriters always find themselves exploring but rarely do they share anything new on the subject. And I’m not only referring to TV writers and Star Cinema people; I point my fingers at every filmmaker who thinks that realism, neo-realism, or whatever prefix they attach to it, gives them an excuse to pick up a camera and call any of their works important, much so after getting recognition abroad. The advocacy! Yeah right.

Unsurprisingly, all discussions of Damgo bring up the single long take, which, to satisfy everyone’s curiosity, is indeed a single long take. Given in this age, doing that is easy, what with all the technologies around, but see, the feat of Damgo is that at some point you cease to notice the long take and become involve instead in what happens during the long take. It’s Terya’s excruciating journey away from home, her seemingly endless walk around the town with her family, but quintessentially the film moves inward, into her self, into her feelings. Far from a journey faraway, the film is actually a journey within. Terya picks up pieces of herself one by one, fragments she lost along the way, and realizes, by the time she reaches the dock, that each of these pieces doesn’t fit. They don’t come together. They are not hers. And she keeps it a secret.

The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010) November 11, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Biopic, Hollywood, Literature.
5 comments

Written by Aaron Sorkin
Directed by David Fincher
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake

Hell is other people, and practically what Zuck wanted was bring millions of hell together. Punk, traitor, billionaire, dork, genius, asshole, dickhead, liar, douchebag, stalker, schmuck, connard, he is many things, but above all else: stranger. Not an outsider but a stranger. Camus’ stranger, to be precise. Faithfulness is no longer relevant; in fact, it’s the least important thing. In this age realism is history. What people want is a recreation of truth, a posh celebration of failure, a reminder of beauty and madness regardless of their source. The place Zuck created, the world he held in his hands, the universe he squeezed into a ball, the opportunities he cracked open for every one who merely believed in him: larger than life, smaller than meaning, deeper than nonsense. Rarely do we value detachment, for it means death, and death is unbearable, insufferable, for it means we pass on without having managed to prove anything, not even the slightest difference. Sorkin writes a brilliant script—his verbal Olympics, his tireless bits of clever—based on Zuck’s life at Harvard, but he doesn’t need to understand the persona of his inspiration; he only has to be driven by his idea, to be possessed by his vanity, and to be consumed by his love to breathe life into megalomania. No one can understand Zuck, except maybe, for some absurd reason, Baudelaire: “For the boy playing with his globe and stamps, / the world is equal to his appetite — / how grand the world in the blaze of the lamps, / how petty in tomorrow’s small dry light!” Look at him: a boy so insular, a boy so badly drawn, a boy who paddles through life at the mercy of signals. Look at him and see what you have not become.

The Town (Ben Affleck, 2010) October 19, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
3 comments

Directed by Ben Affleck
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively
Based on the novel by Chuck Hogan

As early as now The Town is being hailed as one of the year’s best films, and it’s hard to argue otherwise if you also share the views of its supporters. True, it’s a well executed action drama whose heavy-handedness shoots like a bullet in the head. True, its moments of brilliance stick out, which makes the viewing experience rather unsettling, like listening to a lecture on the history of violence and feeling all the narrated violence happening to you, bit by bit, bruise by bruise, blood by blood. And yes, another truth, Ben Affleck is a gifted director. I never doubted that. In fact, in this fucked-up time when I care so little about cinema, I decided to see The Town because I was so impressed by his previous film, Gone Baby Gone. When you give a kid a gun without explaining to him what to do with it, The Town is the film you get. Unfortunately, that kid decides to cast himself as the lead actor too. And that, I think, is my only problem with the film. The Town sucks a bit because Ben Affleck has chosen to direct himself. For instance, when his character goes on narrating about his mother, it’s painful to look at him without wincing and thinking “dear, you should’ve called me, you’re always welcome in my bed!” On the other hand, Gone Baby Gone works tremendously because of Casey Affleck, and I’m sure Ben can wholeheartedly concede to the fact that his brother is a better actor than he is. The role is simply not for Jennifer’s hubby. Another instance: when Ben has this heated argument with Jeremy Renner, which ends with the two of them gasping for breath—either too tired of brawling or too overwhelmed by the thrill of touching each other’s body—you can’t take your eyes off Jeremy. Ben is OK, but you won’t give a damn and look through him. The only time you gape at him intently is when he’s doing all these pull-ups and you are lustfully reminded by the same bemusement while watching George Clooney in The American. Except for his six inches, you wish Jon Hamm is one of the thugs too, so you could see him loosen up. And when you get tired, you can always go back to Jeremy and try to deconstruct his hurt-locking face. The accent of the people in Charlestown slightly puts me off, but I guess I don’t have to catch every word they say just to know what they mean by fuck off and get a life. The Town is neat but it’s Heat with no idea of warmth.

The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, 2010) September 14, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
3 comments

Written by David Callaham and Sylvester Stallone
Directed by Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li

Either my English is nil or every one in The Expendables has this habit of slurring words that after a few scenes I finally gave up on the idea of following the plot. Mind you, I tried. In most cases, I usually lower myself to the seat and take a nap, but with all the nerve-wracking and brain-shattering explosions happening around I don’t think I could even manage to close my eyes. It’s like going through a marathon of Michael Bay’s films and graphing their use of sound, trying to see if once muted they would catch fire. Nevertheless, it turns out for the best, because with this type of work, once you cared for the plot, you’ll miss the point of it all, that is, the sheer pointlessness of every goddamn life in the world. You think Stallone cares if you like his movie? No frigging way. You think Jet Li would? Not an inch. Maybe Jackie Chan, but not fucking Jet Li in a Sylvester fucking Stallone movie. It’s already given that certain scenes in The Expendables make you cringe, but for the most part they also force you to collapse in embarrassment. As in, c-o-l-l-a-p-s-e. Mickey Rourke and his I-wanna-die-of-catatonia-upon-hearing-it anecdote about this girl from Bosnia; Bruce Willis called Church, Jason Statham called Christmas, Jet Li called Yin Yang; the Stallone and Schwarzenegger face-off, Stallone saying Schwarzenegger’s fucking problem is that “he wants to be president”; Statham doing this crazy homage to Dr. Strangelove, without that riding-on-the-missile thing of course; and all the jokes on Jet Li being small, Jet Li having a family to support, Jet Li deserving to get a raise because he works harder than everyone else, and again, Jet Li being small so he has to shoot Dolph Lundgren down. I was tempted to call The Expendables a pacifist film—joining the exclusive ranks of Full Metal Jacket, MASH, and Pan’s Labyrinth—but just for a fraction of a second I snapped out of it, exclaiming a pitiful “whatever”. Go get a life if you diss this film. You bloody pukerocious runt, you fucking piece of nasty codswallop. The Expendables is a masterpiss of intellectual vacuity, for chrissakes. It does not even want to be reconsidered. My only complaint is that Jason Statham never appears without a shirt on—we’re only left with the sight of his calves and biceps—but after a bloody discussion with friends, something that involves spattering real blood from knife-slinging, we are all agreed that in Sylvester Stallone’s standards, suspicious unless his own, showing off one’s beefcake is not manly at all.

Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010) July 31, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
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Written and directed by Christopher Nolan
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy

I guess what Christopher Nolan’s been doing in the last few years is redefining mass entertainment. While it’s true that his films pander to people who are intelligent—more so to people who think they are intelligent—it’s also clear that he has created a steady mold for these blockbusters. I can’t help but imagine other filmmakers who are eager and inspired to have at least the sawdust and tinsel of his big ideas, enthused to imitate his experiments and articulations. Nolan’s concepts, albeit clever, are showy to the point of tiring the viewer out of his mind. He’s too smart for his own good that he creates the illusion that every time he makes a film, that wisdom could be passed on to his audience. Rubbing shoulders with the “thinking audience” is Nolan’s lucrative business particularly after The Dark Knight. Sadly, the ticket to immortality seems to need only a rave status update on Twitter nowadays.

Nolan has the whole Internet to thank for. Aside from Heath Ledger’s death, The Dark Knight raked in the box office due to the incredible hype (and meaningless discussions) it raised on blogs, social networking sites, and comment reviews. It’s the phenomenal disease that hasn’t waned until Nolan’s next film, the pointlessly glorified Inception. Again, it’s the film that tipsy fans would exclaim, “Fuck, I have to see it at least twice!” But is Inception really that clever or these people are just being unreasonably stupid for coolness’ sake? Hasn’t it already become, in only a matter of weeks, a symbol of cinematic hipsterness?

In hindsight, Nolan has raised the bar for blockbuster movies. When a 160 million-dollar movie becomes the talk of the town because of its merits, and eventually puts itself in the position of audience’s exaltation, honestly, that’s an uncomfortable thought to deal with. It kills many loyal members of the audience who want their entertainment without the sugar rush of too much icing, viewers who don’t complain about clean fun and excitement. James Cameron’s Titanic, as far as I can remember, didn’t have to explain its mawkishness; in fact, it’s proud of it. On the other hand, Inception is always in defense. It’s no clean fun and excitement. It’s too busy taking up Freud and Frank Lloyd Wright to bother with that. It’s one of the most narcissistic films ever made; and the big narcissist, if only it needs to be said, is Nolan himself. The chases are awful, the cutting between scenes too dull, and the Matrix concept too exerted and stressed to pound one’s nerves. It gave me a headache, to say the least, and it’s not a good thing to take an aspirin while the film is so bent on pressing the mind tricks. Like a moebius strip of clever that drags on for so long it’s no longer interesting. His Batman movies are lamentable and The Prestige is almost ruined in the end, but how come I still can’t shake this feeling that Nolan’s middle name, for Christ’s sake, is fast becoming Jesus Christ?

The dialogues are downright explicit that there is not much thinking involved while watching the film. It’s all there, skin and bones. The only muscle it keeps on moving is Nolan’s mania for highfalutin action and countless references. It is too intentionally messy with a very weak emotional hinge. When it goes on with the dream proper, it walks cool. But when it comes to personal correspondence and motives, it all falls apart. The drama couldn’t be taken seriously. It’s almost close to bluffing. Thank the cinematographer Wally Pfister for the impressive visuals, but hell, it’s fucking $160 million. Marion Cotillard and Ellen Page are exceptionally pretty; so as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Cillian Murphy, and Tom Hardy, who all excel at being cute. Leonardo DiCaprio, however, has more problems than Africa, and his damn eyebrows are overworked and underpaid. Hans Zimmer pricks up my ears. All this makes Inception stunning on the surface, but as with some pretty-looking things, you don’t always give it a second look.

The dream concept is what everyone’s been crazy about. But hasn’t Satoshi Kon played with the unconscious with more grace and wonder in Paprika? Also, Luis Buñuel. Just one ridiculous dream sequence in one of his movies turns Inception into a lousy karaoke. I quote David Denby:

“Dreams, of course, are a fertile subject for moviemakers. Buñuel created dream sequences in the teasing masterpieces “Belle de Jour” (1967) and “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972), but he was not making a hundred-and-sixty-million-dollar thriller. He hardly needed to bother with car chases and gun battles; he was free to give his work the peculiar malign intensity of actual dreams. Buñuel was a surrealist—Nolan is a literal-minded man.”

What am I getting at here? Aside from Nolan’s fake empire, nothing. But two weeks later, it’s still cool to talk about Inception, isn’t it? I belong to the club. Welcome me. Losers.

Rocket Science (Jeffrey Blitz, 2007) June 12, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
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Written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz
Cast: Reece Daniel Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Vincent Piazza, Nicholas D’Agosto

Wisdom consists of the ability to observe, and Hal Hefner’s wisdom rests on the tip of his tongue. That should not make him any less wise, considering his personality is not far from most high school students who grow up with a dysfunctional family, but the world is more cruel than fiction. The world fails to see that a disorder is in itself an order, a weakness is actually a strength, or a heartbreak is indeed a heart surrounded by a fortress of cushion, never to feel any pain. Fiction, on the other hand, understands that the world exists because it must, be that as it may, and showing the other way around is what it tries hard to do, less as an escape but more as an option to co-exist. Rocket Science gives an impression that high school experiences are beginnings that imply endings, that there is a part of Hal Hefner’s life that ends when he meets Ginny Ryerson, and a part of him that begins when she breaks his heart. The catch of it is that, amid the witty nastiness of Hal’s relationship with Ginny—as well as dealing with his parents, his brother, and his stepfather’s family—his coming to terms with the world that needs to be confronted is nailed with sadness. Sure thing, college comes after high school but college is also high school albeit with different people, lads and ladies who may be worse, only the excuse of calling it “high school” no longer follows. High school does not need quotation marks to make it sound special, nor it is a poor caricature of experiences common to everyone, like those films that tend to define it with nerds and jocks and cheerleaders. High school is the only time when we just need a slice of pizza to feel better, or when we have a cello thrown in someone else’s house as an idea of revenge, or when we have a sicko-brother who insists on calling us Penelope or any other girl’s name every time he wants to. At one point, Hal likens himself to a disfluent mascot who is not getting a BJ, and that’s when he unconsciously accepts the possibility of rejection, punctuating the dissonance of his stutter and a blowjob in one dialogue. He’s still figuring things out, trying to make sense of things, and certainly that’s being in high school’s legacy of all legacies—a habit that introduced us to hurt and all its friends. Upon reflection, the film feels short and forgettable because actual remembering is brief, even incoherent, but there is completeness in it—a realm of boxes better left unopened—that even if Hal’s conversation with his father happens in the beginning, it wouldn’t make a grave difference. Realizations, after all, are reminders of failure. But failure is right, and failure is better, especially when it has Clem Snide and Violent Femmes in it. Or Reece Daniel Thompson and Anna Kendrick. Or a debater like Nicholas D’Agosto.

Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010) April 26, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.
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Directed by Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley

Consider that line between literary and cinematic that Marty takes in Shutter Island. Screw the essence of calm, Leo’s character says, but look behind him and you will see that Marty’s up to a lot of more screwing, especially if you belatedly read the book after feeling clever and realizing that it is one of the rarest instances of adaptation when you wonder—and ponder—how the book is written. It doesn’t seem necessary—reading the book after watching the film—for how do you twist the untwisted back to its twist again when its innocence already died?

But Marty has been there, done that, won this, lost that. That recognition for The Departed, if anything, smacks of incongruity but rarely does that thought matters. Marty deserves it, regardless. But having made Shutter Island—an adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel—after The Departed—a remake of a Hong Kong thriller—seems to pronounce that path even more, that thought of Marty believing in a material whose life depends entirely on who presents it—regardless of the material—and that he, of all American filmmakers working at present, is the last who needs any affirmation. And true enough, Shutter Island is the type of film made without any awards in mind, which makes the viewing experience bring out the anal, an exercise which strains the mental and defies the functions of the aesthetic.

Worthy to look at is how Marty builds the suspense and the psychology of his main character, only to be marred by the requirement of delivering the twist. Not a remarkable fault it turns out—to be honest, the twist is earned enough to keep the narrative unharmed, upending the film a little less than the accent of Mark Ruffalo or the disturbing mood of Michelle Williams’ appearance and her colorful dress. It’s a valid nitpick, however, to dislike it on account of that—but isn’t Marty just following Lehane’s mold? Dismissing such impressive and dragging moments is being blinded by the conceit that one is smarter than the film, which, speaking of Shutter Island, is easy to surmise but a little too hard to believe.

The war bits come in early, clouding the plot instead of focusing on it, but as previous war films are proof, there is nothing clear in war that can easily be visualized. If the filmmaker were to talk about war he might as well just talk about it; to present it with sight and sound is a completely different matter, if not by all means complicated. The surgery on how trauma works and how trauma feels goes back to that experience, that though the film seems to point at it as the cause, it also does not reject the possibility of another. The tracking shot of the Nazis being pulverized, for instance, is even better than the entirety of say, Stephen Daldry’s The Reader, because it’s plain and simple violence; that scene alone is war itself—awfully aware that war is more than that but also aware that war is both something that happened in the mind and in actuality—which is far from a twenty-first century exercise on literacy and a groundbreaking performance. Marty casts Max von Sydow as the psychiatrist knowing that the Swedish actor’s face can conjure nuances and physical representations of many aspects of the past, not only of war, but also of individuality and modern man’s coming to terms with existence. The lonely knight playing chess with Death is just one of those towering thoughts.

The convenient thing is to end it vaguely, to ask some mind-boggling question as Which would be worse, to live as a monster or to die as a good man? which puts the audience at stake, not the film. Must say that’s truly clever—saying that thing and revealing a shot of the lighthouse, implying and fully suggesting a contradiction—but what’s not clever before that? Some sort of Moebius strip where “Teddy is sane” turns into “Teddy is crazy” and the last minute turns into “Teddy is Andrew” which finally becomes “Andrew is acting Teddy”. Screw the logic and conspiracy, and all that’s left is a madman who is sane and who, quite recently, made a shining docu on The Rolling Stones.

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Lee Daniels, 2009) April 22, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
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Directed by Lee Daniels
Written by Geoffrey Fletcher
Cast: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz

It’s easy to get carried away and call Precious a great film on account of its actors. Every awards season, one or two films make a grand entrance—John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt in 2008 (Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Amy Adams, Viola Davis) or Stephen Daldry’s The Hours in 2002 (Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris)—carrying an ensemble of actors whose performances are so massive, their portrayals are better remembered than the film they are in. This past year turned its light on to Lee Daniels’ Precious, an adaptation of Sapphire’s novel called Push.

The roads of star system are not paved overnight. If one imagines Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe giving life to their mother and daughter roles in the 40’s (years after Hattie McDaniel received her Oscar for Gone With the Wind) . . . well, honestly, there’s simply no way to imagine it. It’s completely inconceivable. These roles make terms with the times, inasmuch as these films are products of political conditions, particularly of the society’s measure of tolerance. They just can’t be conceived on a whim, inasmuch as history is not made on a whim. The characters in Precious are only written now because they mainly exist now, and they speak, they act, they complain, and they fight as a result of such longterm struggle of keeping mum. Being a product of a strong and significant facet of predominance—to wit, the (a)moral damages of institutional racism and the (a)political debasement brought by ethnic discrimination—makes Precious deeply relevant.

But the film walks this bridge that connects the common and the exploited. There is nothing here that the viewer who watches TV and reads the dailies doesn’t know. Abuse is too strong a presence that it becomes normal; or if not normal, ordinary—as ordinary as street children who knock on the window of one’s car. Which is bad and which is terrible, even with that little hope provided by the film at the end. And which also means that one cannot escape such fate if one is borne black, poor, or handicapped, because unfavorable circumstances only become more unfavorable as time goes by, unless when it comes to people who are lucky, strong, and rich (which, on second thought, are qualities that null their being “marginalized”), people whom the media always hype to the extreme, to give hope to the less fortunate, as they say.

Mo’Nique and Sidibe’s performances—of a mother and a daughter surrounded by the worst physical and emotional abuse—are the honeycomb of the press, and deservingly so. Their characters are written to be electrifying, and so they did electrifying. Titanic is how the exposition in the end is delivered, how the sympathy moves from one to another, how there seems to be no conclusion to ever reach for. The film achieves the monstrous and the filthy, only it gets there a little too messy, if not a little too sloppy.

St. Elmo’s Fire (Joel Schumacher, 1985) April 6, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood.
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“I have the perfect solution. Stay away from love.”
What? Stay away from you? That’s impossible!

*

Written by Joel Schumacher and Karl Curlander
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Cast: Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy

Oh, the appeal of these movies. Charming actors playing semi-charmed kind of lives, making themselves look like us, only we’re not them and they’re not us. I know there isn’t much realism to expect from mainstream movies, but a good rule of thumb must always be observed concerning credibility, whatever rule that is.

Emilio Estevez as Kirby is cute because he’s a bit on the small side and he acts funny. But when he starts to pursue a nurse he first met in college, who the hell she may be—Andie McDowell it turns out—he drops every cute thing about him. There’s this ‘STUPID: don’t bother’ note pasted on his forehead since then, which, of all things noticeable, he doesn’t notice. Rob Lowe as Billy and Demi Moore as Jules are plain caricatures of junkies, made worse by their portrayal. But credit goes to them for giving the title of the film some sense in the end, which really isn’t much to brag about. Ridiculous is how Billy slings his sax on his back like any mountaineer would with his knapsack, or that nagging thought that goes, “Isn’t Jules too bright to graduate on time in Georgetown?”

On the other hand, Mare Winningham as Wendy is given too much clothes to make her look prehistoric, like she’s not rich and has no access to intelligent books, magazines, and whatnot. Worse, the writers give her the worst lines, and worst responses to top those! Remember Billy’s request before he leaves, “Would you give me a going-away present?” which is funny if she slapped him before she consented but she didn’t! She really gave him his idea of a going-away present.

Judd Nelson as Alec and Ally Sheedy as Leslie are a long-time couple troubled by each other’s shortcomings, her not wanting to marry him just yet, and his womanizing activities unknown to her. Here, the writers strike again, giving Alec some “political depth” with the Republican and Democrat shit, and Leslie some feminist (or feminine?) stuff to defend herself against. What are these writers thinking?


McDreamy who?

But wait—is a wait really necessary here?—there is Andrew McCarthy. Andrew McCarthy! Before I get ahead of myself here let me share first that he plays Kevin, an aspiring writer who keeps asking about the meaning of life as he persists in writing something about it, hoping to publish it. Which he achieves eventually—only why is it that when I freeze that shot of the newspaper article, there is nothing about the meaning of life at all? Ack, really, the appeal of these movies! Anyway, Andrew McCarthy has aged as everyone else does, but in his younger days, especially in his Brat Pack movies, he looks like everyone’s idea of beautiful. His eyes are the best thing about him, how they talk without talking, how their blueness engulfs and melts like the sweetest embrace, how they’re just the most expressive eyes ever to look at anyone. Those eyes wrap around like a voluptuous snake, and a killer serpent at that. Next to his eyes are his lips, how they seem comfy to lie on, and his smile that can launch a thousand . . . whatever. The hair is also an attractive sight, thick and wavy, almost rugged, but smells like a freshly flipped pancake. (. . . sinks in that this is not a review of Andrew McCarthy) Jules suspects Kevin of being gay—the only guy in the University who didn’t make a pass at her, she says—like what’s wrong with singing along with Aretha when you’re alone, and turning the music off when someone comes? But of course, predictable this movie is, Kevin is not gay because he is in love with Leslie, keeping it secretly to himself, Leslie who is the girlfriend of his best friend Alec. Come to think of it, there’s some real conflict after all! Interesting, real conflict! Kevin declares to Leslie, eyes locked on her, “. . . I think the reason I’m not interested in other women, and why I haven’t had sex in so long, is because I’m desperately, completely in love with you,” which is just maddening to hear because Andrew McCarthy is the one saying it! Then after that scene, one has to forget how lousy everything turns out.

Who would’ve thought that a film so successful then would feel so dated among the same audience now? And by “the same audience now” I mean myself—a few years after graduation, loveless, struggling, making up my own St. Elmo’s fires, and bit by bit losing touch with my college friends? Though it ends rather civilly—with all the problems patched up and the friends sticking up for each other—St. Elmo’s Fire could have helped itself better with less servings of drama but more platefuls of wit and tasteful sentimentality, taking advantage of its good-looking actors with a smart script. But since this is from Joel Schumacher, that’s too much to ask, I suppose?

Attica! Attica! Top Films of 2009! (Part 7) March 21, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Hollywood, Noypi, Yearender.
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10. HIMPAPAWID (Raymond Red)

Himpapawid does have its faults; but its faults are also worthy to be examined, worthy to be taken into consideration in context, their subtext even complimenting its idea of social disregard punctuatively. Someone complains about its lack of humanity, but what here is not human? What here is not humanity? What here is futile and hopeless? Everything. Raul is our vicar; and the vicarious misery we feel upon seeing his fate tells more about our situation than his’—our life outside the three-cornered confines of cinema. Red’s return to feature-length is every bit arresting, completely compelling, and depressingly defying.

9. ACCIDENT (Pou-Soi Cheang)

One need not see Johnnie To’s name in the opening credits to guess how related he is to it, far from being its director, considering Accident’s utter perfection, but its producer, To’s unmistakable hands guiding Soi Cheang like a proud guardian, coming up with something even better than Vengeance, a whole lot tighter, way satisfying, more gripping, and much exciting.

Accident presents a group of hitmen who commit crimes by staging accidents, by making them look like accidents, meticulous and thorough in carrying out their job that any mistake—as little as a cigarette butt thrown unconsciously—can turn the plan into shambles. Turning point happens when the job backfires: when the accident happens to each one of them. The leader of the group, Ho, begins to suspect his team after the death of one; the idea of being killed in an accident has too much irony he can’t accept. Only when he uncovers things by himself, fumed by the painful memories of his dead wife who also died by accident, has he able to realize his paranoia, unfortunately, when things are already too late to undo.

Mathematics—that’s what Accident is incredibly good at. Not the type of mathematics in films that involve scientists and geniuses, but the mathematics of brilliant metteurs en scène, the gift of staging scenes meaningfully. It’s that relationship between sound and image—how the two manage to produce a formula, how these properties produce the exact result, the precise answer using the equation, and how the calculation is overwhelming in its execution. Remarkable is that final accident—the use of light and mirrors to accomplish such intricate act—only it is overshadowed by the necessary drama that pulls it off; but in a way, like the second accident—the one that involves the tram and the old man electrocuted—there is also that fear of missing a frame, of relishing every little detail of it, of not blinking, of gasping while eyes are glued in front.

The suspense of seeing how the accidents take place, not to mention seeing how they are planned, makes it seem that Accident indulges so much in execution, but to one’s surprise there is more to it than meets the eye, more to it than the compelling narrative, more to it than a shallow cliffhanger, and more to it than a precise and out-and-out moral drama. Multiple viewings can never wear this out; this taut thriller, among other films about to appear in the list, makes Asian films teem with confidence and bleed of bravura—as always.

8. KINATAY (Brillante Mendoza)

I may have to eat these words in the future, recklessly falling into the trap of hasty conclusions and careless lapse in judgment, but since I still have the privilege of saying it now, I have to say: the biggest contribution of Brillante Mendoza to local cinema is not his films, but the popularity of them in foreign festivals.

That was something I wrote before Mendoza won the Best Director prize in the Cannes Film Festival; and after watching Kinatay I still stand by it, though to a lesser conviction; but when I saw Lola, a few months later, I realize I should just have to ignore any context.

The moment is the film and not the individual moments in the film. Kinatay is the film for a criminal in deathrow to see; something that will make him appreciate his death even more; something that will give him hope in darkness. But the darkness of the film is not in the heart; it’s in its soul. That’s why it never dies; it tends to linger in afterlife; it wanders off. Stays. Slays. Space.

7. TOKYO SONATA (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

The newspaper being flown by the wind in the beginning of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata is anything but ominous. The mother hurries to close the door and wipes the wet floor as she looks out and sees the leaves of the trees swaying. It is the only time when the rain is actually shown falling; the first dialogue tells about a storm brewing yet it never really rains for the rest of the film. Kurosawa, using that ploy, presents a more destructive storm, the Sasakis’ fall as a family and each one of them individually, like a slowly sinking ship waiting for the sun to come up before finally giving in.

Tokyo Sonata is a thrifty, thrifty film. Instead of presenting the family’s corruption by pointing its fingers at the cause—that cause simply being the father’s unemployment—it points at the effect. From there it has able to peel each other’s differences: the father’s authoritative stance and pride, the mother’s calm yet cheerful unhappiness, the eldest son’s seeking for things outside his home and country, and the youngest’s desire to enroll in a music school.

Every family member seems to yearn for different things—save for the mother, who at first is the element that keeps them altogether but circumstances, eventually, prove to be stronger than her—and the dining table is the only place where they meet, albeit silently, albeit thinking of different needs. There is no “unemployment” of ideas in Kurosawa’s search for answers. There go the spiraling lines of jobseekers and the walking unemployed before sunset, the moving train behind the curtain, the interviews of Japanese children favoring the deployment of their own countrymen to the Middle East, the offscreen effect of the father’s friend committing suicide, the burglar who robs the wife and realizes he is a loser in everything, and the emphasis on Kenji playing Debussy in the end; that even without seeing the entire film, watching that particular scene alone is already worth the pull.

The transition from the first half that focuses on the father’s unwillingness to disclose his situation holds very well till the second, when each one of them starts to go through their own “existential disquiet”. The harsh things ahead surprise yet they don’t come out surprising; they don’t feel contrived but “deserved”, something that’s been waiting for the right flicker of moment to come, like, as mentioned above, a slowly sinking ship. The second half is unsettling; but it hits the spot right at the very sore. The family sinks at the bottom—but a home will never disappear unless its members allow it, and the Sasakis didn’t, they fell and stood up—and Kurosawa, in his pointblank compositions and moving stillness, nails both a priori and a posteriori assertions in Tokyo Sonata that are reflective but never in themselves contradict each other.

6. INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (Quentin Tarantino)

I can never be aware what impact Pulp Fiction made in the 90s, but I can always account for what Inglourious Basterds did to me in the noughties, before closing the year and sealing it tight, watching it twice in the cinema, both leaving the theater past midnight, enveloped by exhilaration, which, considering the subject of the film, is the last thing that I should let myself feel. But there I was, two December nights—first with myself, and second with two of my friends—moved, delighted, amazed. . . like a young writer’s first encounter with books, with pages of love and happiness, with kites of poetry.

Only in Inglourious Basterds I finally convinced myself to like Tarantino, for even though Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Jackie Brown, and both the Kill Bill films are kick-ass, I can’t find the love that I’m looking for, the right piece of nail that holds everything together, that nail that firms up the images and dialogues in their place. True enough, I fell in love with Christoph Waltz the first time I saw him, that exalted man, I whispered to myself, and the bumpy ride in Tarantino’s hansom, from the shooting of the Jews under the floorboards down to the etching of a masterpiece on a Nazi’s forehead, is one rewarding mess of power, larger than life, larger than cinema, larger than the rest of everything I felt that year. This is what I’m watching cinema for, methinks, that largeness to engulf me, to allow myself to be engulfed in, to admonish any invitations of the cerebral, to hold the hands of pleasure. . .

Tarantino is one of the most famous figures in pop cinema culture, and for him to curse history, to curse race, and to curse the language of cursedom with this film, it is only fitting to remark that Inglourious Basterds is the most glourious movie of his entire career, so far and yet so good.

Attica! Attica! Top Films of 2009! (Part 5) March 14, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Hollywood, Indie Sine, Noypi, Yearender.
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IntroductionPart 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

20. DISTRICT 9 (Neill Blomkamp)

Liking District 9 means being able to tolerate its racist (read: race related) appropriations. But race is everywhere; and race can never be avoided. It’s like the pavement we walk on everyday—it can’t be helped but be stepped on. While the issue on race is an obligatory discussion, it’s also as worthy to mention how District 9 is able to laugh at itself, to be ridiculous for ridiculous’ sake, to reveal a deeply political motive without succumbing to annoying motherhood dialogues and iffy global concerns. The derogatory way it mocks the media and the world’s multinational operations is pleasing to the point of chuckling at the sight of Sharlto Copley engaging himself in prawn-like activities after being accused of having sex with them. Being derogatory, like race, is everywhere; and Copley, along with the drama of alien eviction and nigger violence, might as well show off the Peter Jackson geekiness he’s known for. Despite lacking originality, District 9 catches up with a lot of scathing action, almost like a Transformers movie without the retinal damage and ear-bleeding explosions (and unfortunately, without Megan Fox too). It’s one hell of a filthy and unapologetic work, but clear-eyed and amusing at that.

19. UP (Pete Docter and Bob Peterson)

It’s too elementary to call it adventure, but all adventures are elementary anyway; so elementary, my dear friends, is always a good thing. But what counts is the fun, the ride, the thrill, the moments. Who cares about emotional bedrock? That bedrock is never meant to be noticed but it’s there; it makes the film work. Something about Mr. Fredricksen’s character that borrows from an old Spencer Tracy, or the way Pixar has always been brilliant in wordless scenes than in dialogues, that sets it straight from the start. But the cluster balloons—those cluster balloons that were made unforgettable in Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon—they seem to emerge out of a colonial understanding. Or is it the general knowledge of a dream? Or a misunderstanding? And why is the young mind always fascinated by colorful balloons? For Up to use it not only as a bookend device but as an element all throughout—it’s not just a trick but ingenuity.

18. ANG PANGGAGAHASA KAY FE (Alvin Yapan)

I think I said something inappropriate in my review of Fe a couple of months ago, which with the liberty I have now with this list I would like to make up for. Taken out of the Cinemalaya context—and not just because it stands out then—Fe still looks good. Yapan’s literary exposure is swell; but even without knowing so, his film reeks of letters, sublimity, and hidden happenings, without being too pedantic or excessive. In fact, a pulse can be felt as the film exposes its layers one by one, carefully until it reaches the end; a pulse that beats with rhythm and precision, thrusting forward and getting audible in total doppler effect. My memory of it makes me want to see it again.

17. VENGEANCE (Johnnie To)

It confounds me that while “Western” as a film genre is heavily established, there is no such thing as “Eastern” to speak of, the same way that “Western” has recognizable themes and motifs being revived, revised, and parodied year after year, Oscar after Oscar. Considering that theorists are keen on binary oppositions, this oversight (or Orientalism) reveals itself as characteristic of Western writings, often favoring America’s clinical influence and subverting less popular belief to the extent that even a film like Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is just deemed a subgenre of American Western.

But at present, come to think of it, is there any active filmmaker in America working primarily on Westerns? Even John Ford and Akira Kurosawa didn’t work primarily on Westerns and Samurais, which just proves how able they really are, but is it an exaggeration to claim that Johnnie To, John Woo, Ringo Lam, and their company deserve an encompassing genre of their own? Aren’t they (oh, I cringe) auteurs who already earned their respective places in cinema?

Which brings this rant to To’s newest film, Vengeance. It is a mishmash of the filmmaker’s usual gimmick of slippery roads, colorful umbrellas, windswept gunslinging, and slow-motion sequences done in his trademark gracefulness, everything understated in an overstating way. Frankly, there’s nothing new about it except that it stars Johnny Hallyday (in a role that’s supposed to be for Alain Delon) and it’s a French-Chinese co-production, so one can easily feel the gravitating feeling of huge sum of money and marketing involved. Nevertheless, it still reveals To’s touch in the film: the humor, the dancing action, and the fray that concludes it. There is still that “devoidness” of much logic that audiences often complain about, and the preference of style to substance which is silly to elaborate on because again: style is substance. Suffice it to say, in Vengeance, To remains Asia’s most prized hipster.

As far as his previous films are concerned, however, Vengeance falls short in tightness. The holes are too big and the logic invites attention. The awkward English dialogues also get in the way, but other than that there’s a lot to appreciate in the film. No matter how deliberate some sequences are—for instance, when the gang assembles guns while eating pasta, or while shooting a bike as it pedals its way across the field, or that funny way they find time to smoke in the middle of firing bullets—To doesn’t lose his marbles; in fact, there’s that awareness that he almost has the same ambition that Kurosawa had while doing his best works, the way his confidence pushes the film to such heights. Vengeance ends in a shootout that is even better than Peckinpah’s famous shootouts: an awesome feast for the senses, the way the gymnastic gunplay of waltzing hay blocks steals the scene, cavorting, the wind capering the “heroic bloodshed” to bits. For a minute, it leaves an impression that  Johnny Hallyday is about to sing, but he didn’t—he really retired from singing. Oh, if he only sang—the vengeance would be infinitely sweeter.

16. WALANG ALAALA ANG MGA PARUPARO (Lav Diaz)

When me and the boys were out / We killed a thousand butterflies / So I put their wings into my mouth and said a prayer for our safe arrival  / And then a big black car crossed our path / And I wondered whether or not that shit was empty – Spencer Krug

Interesting sentiment raised by Dodo Dayao: he gets bored with Lav Diaz’s shorter films. But I will not be coming after that; what I’m after, which Dodo also raised as a concern, is that Diaz’s career as a filmmaker has now been synonymous to the length of his notorious films, that in colloquial language—and I admit to this—his name is being used to connote tediousness. Consider this conversation I overheard:

“Baka naman Lav Diaz ang gusto mong gawin na pelikula.”

“Hindi, itong sequence lang na ‘to ang gagawin kong Lav Diaz.”

“Siguraduhin mong hindi La Diaz ‘tong project na ‘to a. Ayoko nang may uuwing humihikab.”

But length also means dedication. Length means sacrifice. Length describes obsessive-compulsiveness. Length defines compromise. And length should not determine an audience (though in Diaz’s case I’m afraid it does). But would it have been different if the audience were not informed of the film’s running time? If they are unprepared? If they get engrossed in the film unmindful of time? Isn’t that what makes a film an experience, because of something that leaps out of the usual? Like Children of Paradise? Or Mirror? Or Seven Samurai?

Walang Alaala ang mga Paruparo doesn’t feel any less like a footnote, but along with other Diaz’s films since his debut, it feels complete, aches complete, and yearns complete. I am not ashamed to admit that it took Lav Diaz’s films for me to realize that cinema is different from literature, and that neither is mightier than the other. This one’s only an hour long so I’m sure you can not only find time; you can also make time to see it.

►► Next: Some {Random} Intermission

Attica! Attica! Top Films of 2009! (Part 2) March 6, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Hollywood, Music, Noypi, Yearender.
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(Unfortunately the office let in a firebug recently, the firebug not necessarily a person but ill luck. Most of the files in the list are in the office PC, and since they say it will take weeks before everything goes back to normal—meaning the electricity, water, and work responsibilities—the list may not continue by then. Blame me for not having any back-up file. Anyway, the library and the books are just fine. Fahrenheit 451 almost happened!

Now let’s go on with the list, before my life suddenly turns into a complete charade.)

Honorable Mention Part 2

ANTICHRIST (Lars von Trier)

As far as Antichrist is concerned, Lars von Trier has made two extreme declarations. First, that it is the most important film of his entire career; and second, that he, Lars von Trier, the honky masturbator of the silver screen, is the best film director in the world. Clearly it was the latter that most people picked up—regardless of any film he thinks is his best work is gravely overshadowed by his self-proclamation. Not that he has no right to say it, but such pronouncements are not at all surprising, not something out of his character, not something a man who revolutionized cinema will be afraid to say. His balls speak for him. Who else can say that and be taken seriously? The two hardly go together.

To top it off, he dedicates Antichrist to Tarkovsky—Tarkovsky who saw The Element of Crime and hated it, von Trier never hiding his admiration for the Russian filmmaker. Which is just polarizing, because Antichrist echoes Tarkovsky’s works, especially Mirror, whose treatment of memory is possibly the closest a filmmaker can get to filming its exact fleetingness and certainty. But let’s be honest, von Trier can neither do a Tarkovsky nor imitate a Bergman—he is simply incapable. Comparisons do not come as defense decently; two dead men against one diabolic living is rather unfair to the latter, though if von Trier goes dead right now that’s completely another story. The argument won’t hold water considering respects are paid differently to both the living and the dead. But one thing’s certain though: that statement of being the biggest filmmaker in the world is sure to haunt him forever, not because it is unsubstantiated, but because the world and its history have always preferred humility to arrogance. People will always be unfair to him; and he will continue being disdainful of them. Contempt, contagious—there goes a nice working title.

That said, Antichrist covers as much as those two statements need as defense. His requirement of restriction is putting two great actors—Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg—in possibly the most excruciating roles of their life. The strain on them is too incredible to ignore, how von Trier belabors them physically and emotionally, the resulting film as strenuous as their performances are. Antichrist isn’t going anywhere; even if Dafoe and Gainsbourg start to hack each other to pieces, arm by arm, leg by leg, and skin each other from head to toe, it will only be visually messy and heavy—but the point is still not moving anyplace. It’s a stagnant work whose idea of spiritual mutilation begrudges even atheists; and its images are some of the most disturbing von Trier has ever thought of. While the visuals in his previous works are tasteless and obscene, they dissolve and are just labeled as “tasteless and obscene”; in Antichrist, however, they stick like a leech, the blood that comes out of Gainsbourg’s clitoris spurts near the tongue, warranting taste. “Alert the Sensory” is needed as a warning.

At some point the camera can be heard praying, asking for forgiveness after allowing such torture be seen by fraud-lovers and sado-masochist-wasters. Hats off to von Trier, he’s made his Daddy Lucifer mighty proud.

COLORUM (Jobin Ballesteros)

Half-impressive and half-disappointing but one can feel the promise of goodness, something out of ordinary coming from a road movie involving two men, far from sex but has the tension of it. This isn’t the type that wins in festivals (or Venice, for that matter) but it sure isn’t hungry for any recognition. Its modesty is remarkable enough.

ADVENTURELAND (Greg Mottola)

Hey now, hey now. That fireworks scene remains indelible.

FISH STORY (Yoshihiro Nakamura)

The childish start stretches for quite a while, but when it grabs its arms it starts to pull its act together, neatly, interestingly. Fish Story has the makings of a great film—with that ambition, hook, and humor—but it decides to be spare in its telling, the way it connects the crashing of a comet in 2012 with the disbandment of a 70s punk band whose song provides the most essential element of the film. Save for some dull moments, irritating crying, and deliberate display of coolness, Fish Story is delightful, done with a certain fondness for the old-fashioned. The song itself, played over and over in the film, is one treasure to look for.

AWAY WE GO (Sam Mendes)

Away We Go almost picks up where Revolutionary Road misses, that couple wanting to move, that couple sharing a dream of escaping, finding a better life, moving on from being fuck-ups. The crisis of not knowing where to go and where to settle pervades Away We Go, away being more operative than go, John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph as we, who, unlike Leo and Kate, are meek and understated, but the interest in their characters’ trajectory is much like the same. They are in their mid-30s, she pregnant, he an insurance agent, and they travel to places and meet their friends and family to decide where to settle down.

Needless to say it’s a road movie, but there’s not much car-happenings that happen, Mendes preferring not the journey but the destination. Surprisingly, like the two characters, he leaves it subdued. His control owes more to subservience than temper, which is good because it’s something new and something he’s never done before. Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida take the wheel, punching the script with dry observation and spot-on wit, more like writing their life and telling their private jokes in public. The sultry tunes of Alexi Murdoch provide comforting warmth, their tight embrace keeps the mood tucked in. As it unfolds, one can feel the effort in holding back, in keeping the film as restrained as possible. Home is a hard place to find, but the couple eventually find their way there, the two of them still together.

Being in thirties is depicted as such years of anxiety, of being in limbo for god knows how long. But having someone—having someone at least—makes the madness bearable. A couple do not only live their life together; they also die their life together, as Away We Go argues. As with writerly films there is that danger of condescension, which Away We Go is being chided for, but it seems more like a minor complaint than a shortcoming in this otherwise honest-to-goodness film.

►► Next: 30 Films I Slept With in 2009

Where The Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze, 2009) February 18, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.
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Directed by Spike Jonze
Cast: Max Records, Catherine Keener, Forest Whitaker, James Gandolfini
Based on Maurice Sendak’s book

How does one interpret a short piece of classic literature? Simple—bloat it. But there’s an art in bloating that Jonze and Eggers missed, more like ignored, especially how the ennui feels like ennui and not the ennui that childhood experiences can be defensive of. More like missing the point, the brevity of Sendak’s book, not the brevity of its words but the brevity of its ideas and the brevity of getting them across. Prolonging it is not the mistake—it’s the conceit of being able to keep their heads above water for almost two hours, Jonze and Eggers preferring blatant psych to moody balance, the shift between Max’s home and the forest feeling rather forced than imaginative. Exciting is when Max declares the start of the “wild rumpus”—only the rumpus doesn’t live up to its name and wimps out afterward, the anger melts and becomes plain emo. Being predictable is not the crime; rather hinging on it. Being left predicting everything, like there can only be one turn in every corner, no side streets, no cul-de-sacs, no deadends. Like an adult interpreting a children’s book with an adult pair of eyes, in the adult way of analyzing things, pairing off and segregating, hacking thoughts to pieces. There’s a certain phoniness in it that is difficult to express, a phony dressed up so well it escapes sight, which doesn’t manifest without subjecting oneself to deceit. But realization always had it right. If this were a love game, Karen O wins it by a knockout.

Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, 2009) January 15, 2010

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.
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Directed by Guy Ritchie
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong
Based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters and stories

I’m sure whatever it is that I don’t get in the film is in the books, which I haven’t read, but the closest I have managed to relate to Sherlock Homes is through House—yes, House, the medical drama—so I was still able to follow at least. House as Holmes and Wilson, of course, as Watson; and Moriarty shooting House at the end of season two will probably be coming in the film’s sequel. The wordplay is intentional as much as the allusion is, not to mention how both characters interact and deal with each other, Holmes and Watson apparently engaged in bromance decades before the word is coined, even before they are aware that such relationship will be an important stuff of TV sociology as it is right now. The homosocial intimacy is part of the appeal of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, to the point that Adler may not have existed and it wouldn’t hurt the story that much. It may not be faithful to the text, but who cares? Holmes mentions, Crime is common but logic is rare, and Guy Ritchie prefers the former, the text intact and the execution almost as we have imagined, but is still lacking because the logic is not chosen as priority. Interesting is when Holmes ponder his actions before doing it— like a bullet reflecting on its direction before hitting the target—and Downey just has it, his eyes are always lovely to look at. But as he proves his point to Lord Blackwood, There was never any magic! Right, there was never any in the film.

Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009) December 23, 2009

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.
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Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Christoph Waltz, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Michael Fassbender

There is always a reason to dislike Tarantino’s films—they’re gimmicky, they sensationalize, they poke fun and turn serious the same way, they make over-the-top references and go crazy in stacking them scene after scene, their stories wander like a headless chicken—and more so, to dislike Tarantino himself, the way he insists on doing them, amusing and bemusing critics and audiences alike, like Lars von Trier minus one of his balls. Yet he cannot be ignored. People still watch his films. Young ones dig his popular works; the obscure continue to dignify his early, and even latter, B-movies. Tarantino has gained a following that he himself may not be aware of, for he seems to be less pressured and more confident: his only responsibility seems only to entertain. Quixotic as someone puts it, his latest work Inglourious Basterds would always be called ambitious—the World War story that demands a multi-lingual crackerjack, the Nazi colonel who meets everyone in the narratives whose characters who have similar intentions never actually meet—but Tarantino tramples on that said ambition, only to come out smoking with a ridiculous yet convincing historicity.

The war as setting hints at responsibility—the idea of effort, the difficulty of achieving accuracy, the possession of ideologies, the need to make a stand, the utter risks of blasphemy—but that’s the ruse of history: we tend to give it the importance more than it deserves; or maybe not. But that’s beside the point. Tarantino does not see it as history. He sees it as story—which it really is—fiction, its authenticity lost but its power stays as persuasive as always. The War ended; it happened. But in the film it ended differently, curiously. Only we find it appalling—even appealing—because it did not actually happen. Hitler, Goebbels, Bormann, and hundreds of Nazis did not die inside a burning cinema, did not die in the hands of a Jewish couple; did not die as overly dramatic as that. Tarantino’s big lie remains big until it reaches the climax, which, if Goebbels’ words are to be believed, describes its being cinematic: “. . . when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” And yes, how silly it has become to reach that final fold.

The lie that Inglorious Basterds tells isn’t something to be taken seriously, though; the lie is so deliberate in its outrageousness that, like any Tarantino film, one is aware that this is cinema. The presence of an absence; the most beautiful fraud, as Godard regards it; cinema the colossal lie-maker. Tarantino treats the War like the Los Angeles lowlifes, the killing like the Bride exacting her revenge, the various faces of the war like the faces of the thugs planning a heist. But with the palette of the War—a grand scheme of everything corollary and contradictory—it leverages the so-called aestheticization of violence more easily, not even an excuse but a reality, something that glorifies it more, soaking the film with profanity and citing the Holocaust as immediate response to criticism. Surely, what happens in the film couldn’t be any bloodier than what really happened, right? So there.

Notable how Tarantino seems less constricted, freer to inject his homages, more credible in his use of music, not to mention more dynamic (like the tunes are dancing their way out of the screen in effect), and as perfect as ever in his casting. The last two—the choice of music and of actors—being Tarantino’s inimitable asset; that while his hands are in full control, touches of his quirk splattered everywhere in his films, one cannot deny the presence of John Travolta and Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction or forget Dusty Springfield soothingly singing “Son of a Preacher Man” in it; the way in Inglorious Basterds there is the royal highness that is named Christoph Waltz—who, truth be told, is the singlemost achievement of the film, a menace who chews more than he could bite off, and is possible to emerge as the most effective yet most loved devil in recent years, his baleful tenderness so alluring his presence is such grace—and Morricone that makes the potpourri all the more insane.

The indulgent quality of Tarantino’s works is what actually makes them click. It is a self-conscious decision—to throw references left and right to the point of overexertion, making the audience aware that he loves spaghetti westerns and macaroni combats, that he identifies with the films and the actors of his youth, that he prefers his soundtracks to sound like mixtapes, that he adores Godard, that he loves bastardizing the things he love and making it look otherwise—and over the years his aesthetic has always been described and defined as cool, and it still is right now, if the term is not so overused. But he runs the risk thinking that the audience could easily relate to them. He is indifferent; but that’s not to say that he is irresponsible. He is more concerned with seeing the result of his pastiche, the surprise of seeing them work after all. And again, I must say, it did work in Inglourious Basterds.

It is able to remove the importance on its sleeve; like the War is just some event in the past that can happen again anytime; how is the War different from the wars we face everyday anyway? not in the tone of existential questioning but in the rhetoric of having it asked. Self-awareness is evident in every frame; this is entertainment, this is cinema, this cannot be any farther than what it isn’t. Yet even those who are not committed to cinema—those who don’t consider films as their boyfriends and girlfriends for life—could also enjoy it, though not as much as those who do.  Tarantino converts filmgoers into film maniacs; and he makes film maniacs love films even more, obsessing in them like he does.

Is she reading The Man in the High Castle?

In his review of the film Noel Vera makes an important mention of Philip K. Dick’s novel The Man in the High Castle, comparing its vision to Inglourious Basterds’. He argues: “Dick, in effect, plays with reality in ways Tarantino can’t even begin to grasp—where Tarantino thinks in terms of victory or defeat, death or revenge, Dick thinks of broad political and economic forces, shaping a complexly realized society that in turn shapes us in complex ways; where Tarantino indulges in Three Stooges slapstick with a dash of sadism, Dick has a Japanese insulting an American with an offer to mass-produce his wares (it takes the American some minutes to even begin to realize he’s been handed a putdown, not an opportunity)—the exquisite cruelty of the moment goes beyond anything in Basterds. Dick’s High Castle is the game of make-believe played at grandmaster level; Basterds feels more like a session of tug-o-war with the other end of the rope tied to a fireplug—stupid and pointless, if occasionally amusing.”

While Mr. Vera’s point makes a lot of sense, I can’t see why it should make the film any less inferior—not only to the book, but to the genre of science fiction itself. The tone, in a way, suggests that while PKD’s novel has a grand vision of things that had not become, therefore a healthy imagination of sorts, which by all means I agree, Tarantino’s film is more like junk food compared to it—like fastfood meals or hamburgers in highway stands consumed out of convenience—marketed so well that almost everyone eats them, the customers so delighted they promise to come back. That may be right; but not exactly.

Interpretation is the writer’s business. PKD and Tarantino are interested in maintaining a certain fiction, a valid misrepresentation of history, or, as what this genre would love to say, an alternate-reality—the alternative present. This alternative present means there is an alternative past and an alternative future; an alternate history and making of history so to speak. PKD’s idea of cross-cultural roles are in fact deeply rooted on race—the Germans, the Japanese, the Americans, the Jews, the Africans; and in those classifications there are smaller classifications that further define their roles. The race functions as identity. The realities are dictated by the ones in power; though optimism is an existing motif. PKD has big ideas; he may really be the man in the high castle, the I Ching itself.

Tarantino’s idea, however, decides to hide those big ideas—surely, he has them; otherwise what else could he show off?—and decides to ridicule them instead; in fact, the way I see it, they even become more pronounced. Comparisons are unavoidable, of course; but how good they can be but mere reinforcement of approval or dissent? Qualifications of a certain work should not be trampled based only on comparison; specifically, on what it is not, using the idea of other works that excel on doing the same thing as be-all and end-all example. I regard The Man in the High Castle as an exemplary piece and if another writer writes an alternative world tale better than it is, I would acknowledge it—but it wouldn’t change the fact that PKD’s novel is great (not to mention that he’d been there first; his vision developed way before we had all these technologies around us.) On the same note, discussing the qualities of Inglourious Basterds as opposed to Night and Fog’s own, for instance, is insane, useless, and downright ridiculous; unless someone is up for something less than the film but himself.

Well, for the sheer fun of it, I’ll give it a try. If I should make my own comparison, running instead against the greatness of PKD, and shaming myself—I ask, could someone read The Man in the High Castle in two-and-a-half hours and be as entertained as watching Inglourious Basterds? I am afraid I have to wait for answers, but as of now, by default, Tarantino wins that match. But then one could argue about lasting importance, about contribution, about vision, about credibility. . . See? Stale comparisons don’t work. They just put someone on top, and someone else below; which is more than what writing really is. Better to remember PKD’s version of the Gresham’s Law instead: the existence of fakes undermines the value of the real. History is all perspective; fiction is all-powerful. Our servings of fake realities are our survival. Glorify the fake and enjoy it while it lasts.

And while we’re at it, it just strikes me, Inglourious Basterds tells us that Cinema kills the Nazis, right? I can’t help but laugh on the idea. Could there be any thought as berserk as that? Or is this the parallel universe that the sci-fi writers are talking about? Go, tell. Fiction, how amusing and how great.