Film Log: January 2016 February 8, 2016Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Hollywood, Noypi, Oscars.
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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?
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?
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.
Film Log #1 February 10, 2012Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Oscars.
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-