Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fly High, Aviators!

Chojin Sentai Jetman is THE greatest Super Sentai Series ever created. EVER.

I have had a lasting nostalgia for Tokusatsu productions from Japan as a kid, back when I knew them as these shows with people in plastic and spandex suits fighting guys in rubber monster suits. The special effects astounded me everytime, even if it was just the same stock footage over and over again, and I remember the cryptic text in Japanese, "tsuzuku" (to be continued) at the end of every episode.

From dramatic fare such as Maskman (a show that until recently had been my top contender for favorite Super Sentai,) and Bioman (considered by many Filipino Tokusatsu fans to be a cherished nostalgic classic) to weird campy fare like Shaider, and total children's fluff like Machine Man (who could forget the car driven by lying down, the flying baseball, or the cape made of a tablemat?) I devoured tokusatsu in my childhood.

Ironically, I had 'grown out' of Tokusatsu and Super Sentai when Jetman first aired on Philippine TV on RPN Channel 9. I had dismissed it, along with the other series that had been showing (IBC-13's Turbo Ranger, ABC-5's Goggle V and Fiveman, as well as a load of other series) as not as good as the classics I had watched in my childhood.

How wrong I was.

So why is Jetman the greatest Super Sentai? Let me say the reasons why:

1. It has all the good Super Sentai cliches - Like Maskman, it has the "my loved one is an enemy" cliche (expanded into no less than TWO love polygons by near series end,) there's the part where the robot gets pwned at the series half, only to be helped by another new robot (yay for new toys to buy) the villains get a major upgrade near the end, and there's this meddling new bad guy that you see near the series' end. Plus the climactic battle at the end.

2. It doesn't fall into the monster a week pattern - despite the cliches, the series does a good job of avoiding the boring monster a week pattern of previous series (monster causes trouble, heroes stop them and defeat monster, heroes fight and defeat giant version of monster, everyone is happy.) In one instance the heroes don't want to fight the monster; leading to a situation where no finishing move is done and the monster actually surrenders. Other episodes don't even go to the "fighting the giant monster" stage, or there is no monster for that episode/week, giving way to (gasp!) actual characterization and damn good writing for a Super Sentai.

3. Even the silly episodes are entertaining - in one episode Ako (Blue Swallow) is shown to have a sempai who is a ramen freak (no doubt this episode was sponsored by Nissin or something like that) who collects vintage ramen. Suddenly this ramen beast thing named God Ramen (WTF!!!) appears and helps him make the perfect ramen which he calls Ako-chan, where he promotes this by dressing up in ridiculously fake glasses and beard ala Groucho Marx, singing double entendres about how he wants to "eat" Ako-chan. WTF!!!!!!!!!!

In another episode a dimensional monster tries to live good because he is too nice to defeat the Jetmen (in one case he almost causes the total defeat of the Jetmen but fails due to a random act of kindness) and becomes an assistant at a hair salon. WTF!!!!!

4. Great writing, even if you have to suspend your disbelief sometimes - there are some great standalone episodes, like the one where two of the Jetmen are trapped in the bus where strange murders occur in the bus whenever it comes through a tunnel. Everyone suspects everyone else, when it turns out that the bus itself was the culprit! Pretty clever stuff for a Super Sentai.

5. The enemies were just too badass - 70% of the episodes, you see the Jetmen's ass getting kicked royally, with most of them turned into chess pieces, trapped inside pictures, that kind of crazy shit. Gray was an example of "cool" badass, a cyborg who enjoys fine arts and listening to classical piano music (not making this up!) Emperor Tranza, who appears later in the show, demonstrates his powers disguised as a human by outperforming all of the Jetmen in their respective talents (beating the Yellow Jetman in an eating competition!) and making great plans to ruin the Jetmen's day. Radiguet is one of the baddest villains EV4R and you want to see him bite the dust because he is so evil.

At one point even the home base of the Jetmen are attacked. Villains actually entering the HOME BASE, which is like their heaven. It's like if Dr. Man went inside the Biodragon and attacked the Biomen in their own turf. Of course, the Jetmen retaliate by attacking the Villains' home base, the Vyrock.

Also, the mechas, as invincible as they seemed in previous installments, are raped pretty bad this time around. No simple burying in the ground like Maskman's Great Five Robo, no way boss. Instead the robots get their arms chopped off, their stomachs disemboweled. Even the finishing attack of the Jetmen's Jet Icarus, the Birdonic Sabre, gets defeated and chopped in half, at least TWO times in the series.

6. the Red guy was not the coolest one in the block - As much as we, as kids, wanted to be Red One or Red Mask in our little playdates, Gai Yuuki (Black Condor) will forever be the true coolest Jetman. Going his own way always and not really caring at first for world peace, he strikes a friendly rivalry with the less cool Red Hawk. Their heads butt frequently throughout the first part of the series, culminating into a flat out brawl near the series midpoint. In one instance he singlehandedly kills one enemy monster, transforming while walking in the middle of explosions. Badass.

7. MECHAS OMG WTF - there were not two, but THREE mecha in this series. Two of which combined into a bigger, more gianter (hehe, "gianter") robot (who STILL got beat up by the enemy) and the third, annoying ADHD robot turned into a cannon that served as the gianter robot's weapon. All three got their asses kicked in the end.

8. WEAPONS OMG WTF - they had these cool swords that you could attack to their blasters, and later in the series, they even had new blasters that they could lock into their old blasters, forming new, powerful, BIGGER blasters. Oh, and they had this car that turned into their cannon (which was also destroyed by the enemy - see, this enemy is really badass, or the Jetmen are wimps)

9. The Evil Plans were actually working - often you just laugh at the incompetence of the villains in making any sensible, concrete plans for world domination/world destruction/killing the heroes. Here, their plans were sensible, often worked to an extent, and would cause the Jetmen serious damage. Made me kind of admire the villains for what they did.

10. The Characters - ALL of the characters had their own feelings, nuances, likes and dislikes, even the villains. Each of the Jetmen (and each of the Villains) had at least one episode to tell their story. At the center of this are complex love polygons within the Jetmen (Red, Black, Yellow and Pink) outside the Jetmen (Gray, Red, and Maria and a little Black) which makes for very interesting characters. It also makes you sad when a major villain or character bites the dust.

This led to the series having the best developed characters in Super Sentai.

11. The ending - I can't say anything about the ending, but IMO it's one of the most surprising, shocking endings of a Super Sentai yet. Fortunately for fans of the series, the story is continued in a (probably non-canon, but meh) manga that resolves all of the hanging plot threads.

Give Jetman a try and see if you think it's the best Super Sentai Ever. Like me.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cinemalaya 2007 Catchup: Ligaw Liham

Back in the day, we didn't have mobile phones or the internet. Sometimes we didn't have phones at all. I could remember in my childhood, before the days of PLDT's Zero Backlog program, of going to the PLDT center in Alabang (a 20-30 minute drive from home) just to make a call to my grandparents in Bulacan. Connecting to others was difficult, and often the only way one could communicate to another through long distances was through letters.

This theme of connection is mixed in with a man's first love in the independent film Ligaw (na) Liham. Set sometine in the 70s, in a place where letter writing may be the only line for people to communicate with the outside world, Nor is a man who is in control of this system when it suddenly stops working for one reason or another. Although placed in an outsider role in the community (he is considered the village idiot or something to that effect) he uses his power over the letter writing system to write letters to a village lass, Karen, in the place of her husband. Soon the exchange of letters makes him fall in love with the girl. The usual complications stemming from this unlikely correspondence ensues.

The film is one of the examples of increasing film production quality in recent Cinemalaya entries. Although technically there are no problems (and the film deserves some merit in terms of cinematography, editing and music,) and there are solid performances from both leads, the film may strike some as paced too slowly or overlong.

There isn't much else I can say about the film but it explores its themes adequately and gives a good, if slightly flawed, story of a first love.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Cinemalaya 2007 Catchup: The Shorts

Like the films I will be reviewing, I'll just make the reviews as short as I can. Some spoilers may follow.

Doble Vista - Only saw 30% of this one. Too bad, since it was promoting itself as a noir. Being a fan of noir, I wanted to see if this really was what it was. From what I saw... maybe.

Durog - Interesting film. A hallucinogenic look into the destruction of one man's psyche, all because he wanted a fix. Well, he got a fix alright. OK performances from Baron Geisler and Roxanne Barcelo, good camerawork and solid plot.

Gabon - My friend never "got" what this film is all about. To me, it is a reflection of the cultural traditions we have regarding family. A little girl wants to follow her parents so much, she dutifully goes to school to finish her schoolwork even though she is already dead. Good performances from the non-actors.

Liwanag sa Dilim - a bit abstract, but quite intriguing from start to finish. A interesting take on Man vs. Himself. Go go Mark Gil.

Maikling Kwento - quiet slice of life film. I kinda noticed that this took place in the 80's during the waning years of Marcos' regime, although it didn't really have to do anything about that.

Misteryo ng Hapis - Too angsty for my taste. It was dripping with it and left me with a slightly sour impression. My friend liked this though, so it might just be me.

Nineball - probably the funniest short of the lot, and the least serious. Watch out for a cameo from Efren Reyes.

Rolyo - a look into a child's dreams for a better future as she collects film reels. Here she sees a world that seems alien to her, a world that she wants to reach. At least, that's how I saw it. Nice.

Tagapagligtas - one of the more serious films. Seeing that I encounter people like these everyday in the hospital, it has a personal touch to it for me. Should we judge these people for what they have done to themselves and to others? Good production values and acting.

To Ni- as a kid who often played alone, this kinda touched me a bit. OK acting from the child actor/s.

That about wraps it up for the shorts. Told you the reviews were short.

Cinemalaya 2007 Catchup: Still Life


It's been a while, hasn't it? Gearing up for posts regarding Cinemalaya 2008, let's first finish what we started last year (has it already been a year?) and get some reviews in.

Still Life

One of my favorites from last year, it details the story about a painter who, after discovering that he is suffering from a debilitating condition, seeks refuge in a remote seaside location. Here he meets a mysterious woman with her own story to tell and the two forge a peculiar bond.

See that picture above? Absolutely fantastic composition and choice of location. Great cinematography from Dan Villegas. Musicwise I have no complaints, and the production value, like the other competition films this year, has gone up a notch.

The story is quite entertaining, as it is one of the few Filipino movies that tells of a love not quite romantic, not quite platonic. Tired of the slew of sugary sweet rom-coms that have dominated Philippine Cinema since the turn of the millenium, this is fresh as fresh can come for me. Both leads deliver a brilliant performance and their on-screen chemistry is perfect. Glaiza de Castro deserves some merit as Emma, and gives a nuanced, natural performance. I look forward to seeing her in more, similar (or not so similar) productions. Watch for a cameo by John Lloyd Cruz in the beginning!

One of the few complaints I heard about the story is that it did not need the sudden twist at the end (and the twist is indeed something major that I will not spoil it here.) It works perfectly as two people meeting each other transiently in a remote place and saving each other by means of their new friendship. In some ways it draws parallels to another interesting movie that I enjoyed, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. Personally it could work either way, and ending the movie before and after the twist did not have any detrimental effect of my enjoyment of the film.

There was many a teary eye in the cinema in the closing moments of the film, and there were some sniffles present too. Ultimately the film strikes me as a clever little not-quite-romantic drama that deserves its place among the greats of Philippine indie cinema.