Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cinemalaya 2009: Engkwentro

Engkwentro trailer:

My classmate and I had the pleasure of watching the premiere of Pepe Diokno's movie, Engkwentro, in glorious hi definition. And we totally did need that hi def, given the visuals the film was going to deliver. So, was it good? Was it bad? Let's find out.

The movie centers on the topic of organized death squads - bands of vigilantes supposedly authorized by local governments to go and kill dissidents, petty criminals, gang members and even street children. Since the justice system is as impotent as a 90 year old man with syphillis, people tolerate it or even accept it as a viable solution. If the justice system makes you think vigilantism is ok, something is terribly wrong with the justice system.

Richard (Felix Roco) is one such gang member. Before the movie begins, he is targeted by the death squads for some unknown reason (other than... well... he's a gangster.) He plots to leave his house along with his prostitute girlfriend Jenny-Jane (Eda Nolan) for his mother who makes a living in Manila. At the same time, Raymond, (Daniel Medrana) Richard's younger brother, skips school and hangs out with tambays, eventually joining a gang named "Batang Dilim." Unfortunately, Batang Dilim is one of Richard's rival gangs, and as the night drags on, things get more complicated as the gang leader orders Raymond to kill his older brother.

The whole movie takes place in a seaside shanty community that could easily exist in either Visayas or Mindanao, where allegedly most of the death squads exist (the movie was actually shot in three locations near Manila, then cleverly edited together to make it convincing.) As someone who actually has gone to such seaside communities, the look is pretty authentic. The dialogue is also mostly in Bisaya, with a couple of lines in Tagalog. The film makes use of natural lighting, which is nice in the day scenes, but in the night scenes is very dark (hence the convenience of having whatever detail remains shown in hi def.) Now unlike the previous movies I reviewed that use darkness as either a motif or try to portray actions in this background. It didn't work that well in those movies. Here I am glad to say the use of darkness was strategic, it left many things to the imagination, and were not to long as to cause impatience or boredom. Flashes of light punctuate a nervous face or fists flying. Overall I'm impressed.

me with Eda Nolan, who plays Jenny-Jane in the movie.
I consider myself a lucky bastard. hehe.

The camera technique is pretty much handheld 'shaky cam,' which gives you the impression that you are actually there walking with the characters and joining in their scenes as silent observers. It's a love or hate thing, and it's been used in many films, most notable in the D-day sequence in Saving Private Ryan. The technique is most memorably panned in a review of Gaspar Noe's Irreversible, where the reviewer describes the technique, and I paraphrase because I forget the actual words, as someone furiously jacking off while holding the camera. It's understandable, since the shaky cam was deliberately used in that movie to make you nauseous. Personally I don't mind the camera handling, and even though in some scenes it does get me a bit queasy and make some action scenes hard to decipher, it's effective.

The director of Engkwentro, Pepe Diokno, and myself,
talking about the film and stuff. As he's explaining his
use of the single take effect, I'm pointing out the large zit on my chin.

Also, the movie flows very smoothly. To the unaided eye it seems to be one long continuous take in the style of films like Sokurov's Russian Ark or in one real time series of takes like Kim Ki-duk's Real Fiction. However, there are cuts, but the are seamlessly edited together and you probably won't notice them unless you were really actively looking for them... which my friend and I found pretty impressive.

Acting wise the cast does their job excellently. You really feel as if they are their characters. (The whole setting does help, of course.) One very awesome addition is Celso Ad Castillo, who plays Mayor Danilo Suarez. Although you do not see his character in the flesh, his voice is heard in the entire film, an all pervading 'Voice of God' who talks about peace in the same vein as killing. His schizophrenic speech brings about a feeling of dread throughout the whole film. Also, Jim Libiran (Director of Tribu, another similar movie that deals with gang violence, but in another way and in a different location) has a very important cameo at the end.

The most corrupible aspect of an impoverished, morally ambiguous society is its youth. Vulnerable and stripped of hope even at a young age, these guys are easy targets for violence and crime. Of course, poverty and a lack of education is what brings people do crime, and even now, no one seems to have learned their lessons from history.

The plot never drags or slows down, and it inexorably draws us toward the inevitable ending that punctuates the film with a sense of reservation about the future. Is the reality we face today truly acceptable? And even if we do not, can we really do anything about it?

All in all, a good film, and in my opinion one of the best of the festival entries so far. You owe yourself to see this film; you shouldn't miss it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cinemalaya 2009: ASTIG

Lego blocks are awesome. I had a lot of them as a kid, and extorted every OFW relative I had for a new set every time they came home. (For the record, I love those guys) So anyway, this stuff called Megablocks comes in. They were compatible with the Lego stuff, and had their own range of toy sets. They looked like Lego blocks, played similar to Lego blocks, and so on. But the thing is, they weren't Lego blocks. So, I didn't bother to buy em. The point of this story? I'll explain later.

Even before this year's festival began, there was one film that was being hyped as good. It was co-produced by Boy Abunda and has a number of respectable stars, including Glaiza de Castro, who if you remember from Still Life was amazing. The premise was okay: an interwoven story of four men living in the streets of Manila and their respective tales of survival. It was clear that the production value was going to be high, and the talent involved was going to be good. So on my only available day I set off to watch it.

I really, really wanted to like this film.

I'm a bit sorry to say I thought it really wasn't that good. It wasn't bad or anything, it was just mediocre.

So let's get to the film. The narrative moves back and forth in time over all four characters' stories, sometimes scenes overlap with each other, and some scenes reveal motivations of characters from other acts, which is kind of clever from a storytelling standpoint.

One person (Dennis Trillo) works as a male prostitute and as a counterfeiter, your all-purpose conman. He has no remorse for the victims he cons until he meets Elgine (Glaiza De Castro,) a student that he meets in a net cafe. Bada-boom, romance occurs (weirdly enough with little time to grow or develop,) but things are more complicated than they seem, and sooner or later shit hits the fan.

The second story focuses on a newly married man with a young pregnant wife. To keep things going and to earn more for his wife he sells shampoo and other kinds of goods, runs a little gambling thing on the side, and has a lot of other rackets going. However, the money is never enough (hospital stays cost a ton of cash) and he's soon grasping at straws. Soon, however he learns the big cash cow is this relatively rich gay man who gives money for blowjobs. He is then left with no viable alternative and does what he must for his wife.

The third story is about this guy who is of mixed Chinese and Filipino heritage (his mom's from Zamboanga city and there is some dialogue in Chavacano) who comes to the city to sell the one inheritance his father left him - a decrepit piece of shit building. It seems as if his father didn't give a damn about his son, but the son seems to genuinely love his father and wants to reconnect with his half siblings from the father's Chinese wife. He tries to sell the land, which is virtually unsellable, until this one guy (Gardo Versoza) offers him a deal he cannot resist.

The fourth and last story centers on Elgine's brother (Sid Lucero) who studies as a marine engineer to try to get a decent job to support his family. The doleouts from his OFW father have stopped coming and the family is in serious financial trouble. On top of that, he's not really that good in school and is in danger of failing his subjects again. His only consolation is his siblings, all of whom he protects fiercely from potential suitors, all to avoid the fate of his older sister who married a bum husband after getting pregnant.

Out of the four stories, the second was my favorite. It told the story in not many words, and made its point rather subtly. There was also a nice juxtaposition of sex scenes in a movie house in the second part. The scene being shown in the movie is a rape (was it from Ang Pinakamagandang Hayop sa Balat ng Lupa?) While the scene going on in the movie house was technically consensual, but you know it was forced by something else. Very nice. The first story feels incomplete (until the last part), the third story was a bit weird, and the fourth story was merely okay.

Production value-wise, the film is a slick production, from the rap music in the opening scene, mostly crisp visual presentation and good editing.

Now on to the stuff I didn't like. Remember that paragraph I wrote at the beginning? This encapsulates everything I felt about the movie. The whole thing feels too manufactured, as they took all of the things that people liked about a movie and mashed it together, without putting any new spin on things. The slice of life scenario, the interconnecting story, the curse-laden natural sounding dialogue, the soundtrack, you've seen it all before in some other movie screened in this festival before. Now by itself it isn't bad (it's actually good,) but the way it's all put together makes the movie exactly the sum of its parts, which shouldn't be the case.

The movie has many sex scenes, and although some are needed, there are some scenes that are questionable. Especially in the third act, where Gardo Versoza is involved. Although it makes his character (I'll talk about the acting later) more creepy, it was totally unnecessary and made the consequent scenes a little contrived. It comes out like they had an ending in mind and fit scenes to match that ending. It feels extremely awkward to watch the plot develop in that manner.

Now to the acting. Given the limited material, the actors have not much to work on, but they all do the best they can. Honors go out to Gardo Versoza for portraying a truly creepy character in the landlord, and the lady who played Sid Lucero's mother (can't remember her name at the moment) who was very convincing given the material. Glaiza de Castro was underused as her character wasn't given much to do except to fawn over Dennis Trillo and get depressed. There's something about Dennis Trillo that makes him very likeable; even if he did all the things he did in the movie I found it hard not to shun the good boy image he projects. Anyhow, good on him to act against stereotype, even though the stereotype still held somewhat in my final assessment of him. The other actors played their parts rather well, as the production is full of excellent talent. It's just that not even the great Billy Mays can pitch us a cleaner that doesn't clean anything.

Speaking of actors, there was a ton of cameos from various personalities from ABS-CBN and even from Boy Abunda himself in one very short scene. (Watch Ai-ai delas Alas without makeup in one scene, some of the theater goers didn't recognize her until the last moment) If they had one cameo, it's amusing; two and it's still okay. Three, and you're saying, 'well, they worked for next to nothing, I appreciate the effort they made in appearing.' Ten times and it gets annoying. There were at least ten cameos. Even Kuya Kim Atienza joined in on the fun.

My friend found some faults in lighting in the last scene, that it was too dark, that he could not see anything. Somehow I think it could have worked, but ultimately it didn't. I thought that the last scene could work if there was some more emotion in it. Then, that last scene would have worked even in total darkness. I noticed the same thing in the last scene of "Three Days of Darkness," which had appropriate emotion, but dragged on too long and had too much dialogue. There must be a perfect mix of emotion in the scene for it to work.

In the end, Astig is to Megablocks as every winner in this competition is to Legos. It's a combination of the best of the latter, but it isn't the latter at all. A laudable yet disappointing offering for this year's festival.

Cinemalaya 2009: Ang Nerseri

If you were watching TV a few months ago you might have heard of that family all possessing some kind of mental illness. They were locked up in these cages and stuff due to poverty as they could not afford medical care, but thanks to some intervention, they were sent to a mental institution.

This concept of a family faced with mental illness, and the dysfunction that it causes, is used by the makers of the latest Cinemalaya offering Ang Nerseri (the Nursery.) Although the film is about a family whose members all suffer some sort of mental illness, it really is a nice little character piece that is surprisingly good.

The film centers around Cocoy, a 12 year old kid whose has siblings that are mentally unstable. Almost all have histories of repeated and prolonged confinement at mental hospitals or had all undergone some sort of treatment.

The family is entirely dysfunctional; the father has died, and has thus robbed the family of a father figure; the elder brothers have their own problems, as one has left the family to live by himself, and two are hopelessly addicted to drugs. One is sent to a rehab center at the beginning of the film, and the other is Dean. He is supposed to be the replacement father figure (numerous times in the film he asserts his age superiority over his younger brother and bosses around his mother and younger sister) but he ultimately does nothing but threaten and do drugs, surrounded by his paranoid delusions. The mother, played by Jacklyn Jose, asserts little to no authority over her children but protects them fiercely. She lies about her children's status to her friends so as to save face, but in the end, there is a sense of loss of control coming from her. The daugher Lyn tries to live a normal life, but she is ridiculed in college, has no friends, and has fifficulty in her studies despite constantly reading books and stuff in her spare time.

Based on my experiences with relatives of mentally ill patients I find that they exhibit a spectrum of either spoiling the children and giving them their every whim, tolerance or clear contempt, so it is understandable how Jacklyn Jose's character acts in the film, given her situation. It is, however, not a situation that can easily be dealt with.

And so we get to Cocoy, the center of the film. When the mother leaves (I have the nagging feeling that she actually goes insane before or after this time, never to return, but that is only speculation) he, seemingly the only sane member of the household left, is given the task to hold the house together, something that is way too much for a twelve year old to bear. Soon he begins to fight his own sanity as he faces his problems at home, at school, and all the other crap one goes through during the turbulent adolescent period.

During this time, he protects his older sister by fighting her bullies and bringing her to the mental hospital for ECT (the thing where you strap stuff on your head and deliver electric shocks) and fights with his older brother who wants to pawn his typewriter, the only thing left from his deceased father. The typewriter itself serves as a metaphor for the father figure itself in the film; once Cocoy does decide to sell it, he seems to have decided to assume the "father" role. Faced with this burden, he seeks comfort and emotional support from many people. He befriends his schoolmate, explores his sexuality through his neighbor, "calls" his mother over the telephone and even 'consults' his father by visiting him regularly in the cemetery.

Soon however, the promised two weeks become a month, and the burdens begin to overwhelm them. Money and food become problems as both run out, and without money, there is no medication. The battle for his sanity reaches a new level.

One thing noticeable about the film is that after the first scene which is saturated in colors, the rest of the film's visual palette is noticeably bland, with the picture mostly grayscale with only blue and green colored in. This loss of color is meant to signify depression or a loss of deriving pleasure from things, something you can see in depressed individuals.

The abandonment theme is similar to Kore-eda's Nobody Knows, but approaches it in a different aspect, and centers on one character's psyche and his psychic evolution more than anything else.

As far as acting goes, as someone who has experience in helping treat mentally ill patients in a hospital and non-hospital setting, the acting is okay. Mentally ill people more or less behave just as normally as we do, even if their thought processes are slightly off mark. Some exhibit a flat affect (lack of emotion in the face) or tend to ramble on having a flight of ideas (not really heard in the dialogue in this case) but on the whole it's mostly okay.

Cocoy's behavior is interesting. Most of the behavior he seeks can either be attributed to his adolescence, or due to an emerging psychosis. He lies constantly about his status in school, perhaps part of an effort to put emphasis away from his own problems. On the other hand, they could be delusions of grandeur. His methods of seeking pleasure and repeated instances of self gratification may be due to raging teen hormones. Or, he could be hypersexual, again a trait of people with mental illness. At this stage it's hard to tell. At the end, however, he does experience auditory hallucinations that is a feature of mental illness, but his previous behavior is either hit or miss.

In the end, the Orchid nursery in the film parallels the condition of the household, with the opening scene representative of the essence of the film and the basis of the plot. After taking care of the seedlings, Jacklyn Jose's character decides to leave and let them grow by themselves. It is interesting to note that orchids are one of the most hardy of plants; able to weather the greatest of stresses. Given the ambiguous ending, could that fact be a clue to Cocoy's ultimate fate, or an ironic, tragic note at the end? The ending may be interpreted in different ways and the director leaves that up to you. All in all, a very imaginative effort by all involved.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Trekstravaganza 2009: Season 1

In the wake of the latest Star Trek film, I wanted to revisit the original series, the 79 episode beast that started it all (80 if you include the pilot) and give a taste of what made the series so interesting to so many people. I’m going to use these three marks to denote what a particular episode has.

Of course I won’t be covering all of the episodes, just those where I have something to say.

Denotes a well-known Trek episode, the kind Tom Hanks blurts out during interviews at late night talk shows, or parodied in shows like Family Guy.

Denotes a favorite episode of mine. Doesn’t have to be the best in everyone’s eyes.

Denotes a weirdass episode. Full of the psychedelic shit of the 1960’s.

Season 1

Season 1 of Star Trek was Trek trying to find its groove. Characters shifted around, people’s jobs were shifting around like Sulu, and there were a number of inconsistencies from episode to episode. Despite that, a lot of classic episodes came out of the series, including the episode considered as the series’ best.

Episode #3: Where no Man has Gone Before

Kirk and company pass through the Great Barrier, which totally mindfucks one (and later two) of his crewmembers, turning them into really, really powerful beings. Unfortunately, their EQ isn’t up to par for being able to make mindbullets, so Kirk faces them down. What a badass.

Essentially the second episode created for the series, this episode has a smiling Spock (maybe he was just smug) old uniforms and mention of ESP among Starfleet personnel. They didn’t revisit that in later series IIRC, unless there was some kind of Section 31 shit that I didn’t know about.

Episode #4: The Naked Time

Kirk and company get a virus that makes them act like a bunch of drunk or high teenagers. Shit ensues. Oh, and Sulu is fencing. I originally saw that as kind of lame. Being asian, I wanted him to weirld at least an asian sword, going batshit around the Enterprise with a katana. They did manage to do that in the new movie, however, so it’s all good.

Episode #5: The Enemy Within

Kirk gets split into goody goody Kirk which is like Jean Luc Picard with slightly less spine, and 100% Bad Kirk. (note bad, not badass.) He totally makes out with the girl and shit. The moral lesson of this? We are the sum total of our good and bad selves and one cannot exist without the other. Not bad.

Oh, and what was up with that “alien?” It was a dog dressed in pink fur with a plastic horn. I mean what the fuck.

Episode #7: What are Little Girls Made of?

Kirk and company go to this planet where Nurse Chapel’s fiancee is stationed. They go in and realize that they are all ROBOTS. Most notable is Kirk’s babe of the week, Sherry Jackson, who shows up as pleasure robot Andrea. Lol Roger Korby is cheating on Nurse Chapel hahaha.

Anyway, Korby is actually batshit insane and kills himself, Kirk makes out with the babe of the week and all is right with the world.

Episode #8: Miri

Kirk comes across a near duplicate of earth where kids are the only surviving individuals. Star Trek will revisit this parallel earth scenario again and again throughout the series. IMO it’s infinitesimally rare to have a parallel earth but the episodes with parallel earths usually had a point to it, especially as a mirror to our own contemporary culture. Here it was about growing up and the divide between generations. In the 1960s the people who grew up with WW2 and this growing peaceful generation that would later have this peace revolution hippie shit was experiencing such a divide.

Oh, and Kirk’s babe of the week is either Janice “I always wanted you to look at my legs but not now, deadly pathogenic organism causing skin lesions kthxbye” Rand or Miri, who is like 13 years old. Granted, it’s not technically so but. DUDE. Kirk hitting on a 13 year old. Chris Hansen would be all over his ass now.

Episode #9: Dagger of the Mind

Kirk has a stowaway from a prison, returns said stowaway, shit hits fan. Anyway the only person I wanted to talk about in this episode was Kirk’s babe of the week, which IMO was one of the best babes of the week in the first season. She was Marianna Hill, who played Dr. Helen Noel. She was cool in that she was not only Kirk’s kissing target, she also hauled ass and kicked it just as well as the captain. Damn it, Kirk gets the best girls.

Episode #10: The Corbomite Maneuver.

Basically this is just a long drawn out game of bluff, which is what the “Corbomite Maneuver” was. Kirk was like totally shouting loud within the Fesarius’ ears, “Okay, destroy us, but we got this really powerful weapon that does over 9000 damage everytime we get hit. So yeah, go ahead. Not like we care.” What a badass. Of course now that would only be loled at, but this is the 23rd century we’re talking about.

Episode #13: The Conscience of the King

It’s Shakespeare in space! Surprisingly without Klingons! Also throw in some sort of good old murder mystery. Not much to say here, because it would spoil it. The lines at the end are pretty apropos considering the circumstances of the ending and the parallels to Shakespeare.

Episode #14: Balance of Terror

One of the best Trek Episodes, Kirk gets into a submarine type tussle with the Romulans, headed by Mark Lenard, who we all know as Spock’s father Sarek. Although the recent style of fast paced Star Wars fighting is being considered more positively, the slow Wrath of Khan type battle was always a favorite of mine. These ships I consider as capital ships, the Galaxy class of their day. What’s nice about the episode is that it portrays both parties not as stereotypes, but as opposite sides, both with good and bad, fighting a war.

Episode #15: Shore Leave

After one of the best, follows one of the trippiest Trek Episodes. Hopping people in bunny suits, assholes named Finnegan (lol at “Jimmy Boy “ being a total nerd before becoming the galaxy’s greatest badass) and Samurai. Fuckitty fuck shit, this was certainly high on the weirdo scale.

Episode #18: Arena

KIRK VS. THE FUCKING GORN, BABY. It eclipses the rest of the episode, literally. Who cares about the fucking “Metrons” and the other shit that was destroyed when the Gorn attacked? This was all about Kirk vs. the Gorn. He beat the Gorn with a makeshift rifle out of bamboo and some chemicals. Kirk was fucking channeling McGyver even before there was a McGyver. That’s how badass he was.

I guess there was something in the episode about how war was bad, and how conflicts can be borne out of misunderstanding, and how people should look at both sides of a confliWHAT THE FUCK, LOOK AT THAT, KIRK VS. THE FUCKING GORN

Episode #19: Tomorrow is Yesterday

Kirk and company accidentally go back in time and screw up the timeline. Eventually they make everything right again. Notable are the action scenes in this film, as we see the origins of the patented Kirk jump kick. Also we see the warping around the sun time travel thingy that we will see reused in a Season 2 episode and in Star Trek IV The Voyage Home.

Episode #20: Court Martial

I always find Star Trek court based episodes very interesting. This one implicates Captain Kirk in an administrative complaint that claims the life of his crew. He meets a lawyer who stays true to the method of reading law books instead of keeping those books all inside one computer. The lawyer is pretty badass too. While Kirk is getting pwned by the prosecution (who turns out to be the requisite Kirk babe of the week - damn, this guy is more prolific than Wilt Chamberlain) Spock, his bestest friend in the world is… playing… 3D chess. Don’t worry, there’s a reason.

The mystery is pretty nice and the payoff was pretty unexpected. All in all good shit.

Episode #21: Return of the Archons

At first I thought that this was one of the crappy episodes, but it turned out to be one of my favorites. So I have to give a rundown of everything I find awesome about this. Basically, Kirk and co. come across a planet whose history and/or architecture parallels (again with the parallel earths WTF) depression-era America or something like that. The people are unreasonably catatonic, but once the bell rings, people go totally apeshit into an uncontrolled orgy of violence, sex, fistfucking and probably gerbils. They learn that Landru, some computer thing, is controlling the civilization as logically and soullessly as possible, for peace. Kirk no likey, so Kirk decides to totally fuck Landru up and bust a cap in its ass.

Now, generally, under the Prime Directive, since this is a primitive, non-warp capable civilization, the Federation shouldn’t be fucking with this society. In later series, all the captains would probably go, “okay, let’s not interfere, let’s just go to Something IV, warp seven engage.” Or at least they should tiptoe around the planet, interfering with the civilization as little as possible, if there was prior interference. The TNG Episode ‘Who Watches the Watchers’ is an example. Picard and co. may not always like the Prime Directive, but it was a Directive they would not fuck with. That’s why it was Starfleet general order number one.

But Kirk? Fuck no. He’s too badass for the fucking Prime Directive. I paraphrase this exchange between Kirk and Spock.

Spock: Captain, I must remind you of the non interference directive…

Kirk: Fuck Prime Directive! Onward hooooooooooo!

This also starts one of the Kirk vs. Computer scenes seen everywhere in the series, where Kirk totally fucks up a computer and causes it to go into error just by arguing with it in a brilliant display of logic. The producers may have thought it meant that man has the passion and the drive over any computer, no matter the superior mental processing power. I just think it’s badass.

Kirk – 1 Computer – 0 bitches.

Episode #22: Space Seed

No, the title does not imply bukkake in space.

Here we see Khan (the late, great, buff Ricardo Montalban) for the first time. He begins to out-badass Kirk himself, by stealing what was supposed to be Kirk’s babe of the week and claiming it as his own, and taking the entire Enterprise and claiming it as his own. But Kirk manages to outwit him enough and end up offering him his own kingdom. Of course, we all know what happened after that.

I wonder if Kirk knew what would happen. Like if Spock told him Ceti Alpha VI would explode but he care to tell Khan because he stole his babe of the week and tried to kill him/take over his ship.

Episode #23: A Taste of Armageddon

Alien guy: We have this great simulated war! Real casualties though.

Kirk: *Destroys computers*

Alien guy: WTF did you do? Now there will be war for real!

Kirk: lol

That’s pretty much it.

Episode #24: This Side of Paradise

Kirk and co. comes to this planet that turns everyone into pussies except Kirk, who is too badass to be turned into a pussy. Disturbed that everyone in the Enterprise has deserted him, even the redshirts, he calls up Spock to the Enterprise and totally flames him.

Spock lashes out at the trolling Kirk and realizes that strong emotions break the pussyfying agent. So they all return to normal. Happy ending for all.

Episode #25: Devil in the Dark

One of my favorite episodes, without spoiling the plot, I think this episode stresses the importance of understanding between two individuals or groups of individuals. To understand something or someone, one must look at their motivations. You can argue that it doesn’t excuse the action itself, but that’s a debate we can talk about another day.

Also, brownie points to McCoy for curing anything, probably even a rainy day.

Episode #26: Errand of Mercy

Klingons: WAR!

Federation: WAR!

Organians: we’re a bunch of cockblockers. Therefore, NO WAR!


It was nice to see old school Klingons in TOS. Interesting to note that in the series that chronologically follows this, I have not seen any planet under Klingon rule. There have been Klingon colonies or settlements populated by Klingons, but planets populated by another alien species, ruled by Klingons? None. Feel free to correct me though.

Episode #28: The City on the Edge of Forever

Best episode of the series, according to many critics and fans of the series. It defines high quality Space Opera in a time when Sci fi was generally treated with stereotypes of little green men and B-movies. You really have to watch the episode by itself. Kirk and co. happen upon the Guardian of Forever, and McCoy accidentally goes back in time and changes history. So Kirk and Spock go after him but find that it isn’t as easy as they think.

Episode #29: Operation: Annihilate!

It’s Kirk vs. Space Pancakes! When I was a kid I was awed at the sight of futuristic looking buildings. There weren’t a lot of people though (even though the episode points out millions of colonists inhabiting the planet… maybe they just stayed in the shadows.) Great drama ensues when Sam Kirk and his wife fall victim to the attack. I always wondered what happened to Kirk’s nephew afterwards. Oh well. One question though, where was Sam Kirk when Kodos the Executioner did his shit in Tarsus IV? I’ll have to look that up.

So it turns out UV light kills the Space pancakes, and so Kirk and co. go on an ecstasy fueled rave into the night. Just kidding.

That pretty much wraps up my thoughts on the season. All in all a good season. Don’t worry, the shit only gets better from here – the second season improves by beginning to focus on the ensemble cast as well.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

In a nutshell: Blood the Last Vampire

Saw this movie in the theater today. As I cannot form coherent thoughts right now... this will have to do.

  • Overall, disappointed... ridiculous plot, especially after running out of material after the first half of the film. The second half was particulary bad, and the ending was really weird as it barely made any sense and explained nothing.
  • BTW, this was based on the short 30 minute anime feature, not Blood+ or the manga.
  • Jun Ji-hyun's english was excellent. So was everything else about her. Hehe. Okay her Japanese may not have been the best, but that's okay since she's Korean. It also helped me understand the Japanese in some of the dialogue, because -
  • THERE WERE NO SUBTITLES DURING THE JAPANESE SPEAKING PARTS! Since I knew at least a little Japanese, I more or less understood the dialogue, but imagine being a non Japanese speaker and going through this. Maybe it was a problem with the film print that was distributed. And there were like three separate scenes like this. Speaking of the film print...
  • The censors or whoever cut out a lot of scenes for the movie. The cuts actually ruined the first major fight scene, making it barely understandable. And in this film, knowing that the plot may be crap, all I have to look forward to are the action scenes. The action scenes are the backbone. And they broke this backbone like a wrestler's knee from the top turnbuckle! I'm not sure if this happened in your country, but it happened to mine (Philippines.)
  • Whatever fight scenes are left are either boring or cut to death. The only one I really liked was the one with the old guy, and even that fight scene had a few trims here and there. I would rather watch an uncut R version of this movie that have it PG13 or something like that to have to film mangled this horribly. I have to see the uncut version of this film. Thanks, censors. You've managed to convince me to support the pirates. LOL.
  • I like Koyuki as an actress. Her english is admittedly not the best. Maybe it would have been better in Japanese, but then again, there may have been no subs for that given the poor way the print was handled. Her character was severely underdeveloped and I wanted to see more of her kicking ass and a more epic battle in the end.
  • Not enough "council." We don't even see them for the entire film other than that one old guy reading manga.
  • Editing too fast and messy for me, ruining the fight scenes. There's "good" fast editing, and there's "jumbled mess" editing. It might be partly due to the cuts though, so I won't totally pass judgement on it.
  • The rest of the actors are forgettable.
All in all, it would have been a nice action movie had there been no cuts and with cleaner editing and choreography. Too bad though. Still Jun Ji-hyun rocks and I look forward to seeing her in more, hopefully better international movies.

Friday, May 08, 2009

To boldly go... again

I am a Star Trek Fan.

To what level? I've watched all of the original series, most of the later series (TNG, DS9, Voyager) but not much of Enterprise. There was a time when I can tell you the name of any TNG episode just by seeing the first 5 minutes. I've watched all of the movies, and for the first ten movies I can tell you I've watched them at least 10 times each to the point where I could recite the lines from memory. If I had the chance I would go to a convention, in uniform even. And although I can't carry on a decent Klingon conversation, I can still say at least one word in Klingon.

After the tenth film the franchise died down for me. It was getting old, and the creative talent that had driven the series from that time grew stale. This is why I was skeptical upon hearing that a new Trek movie was being made, with new characters and a new continuity. A reboot. An alternate take on the franchise. They had this idea way back in the early nineties when the studio producers were thinking of a Starfleet Academy type movie showing young Kirk and Spock with a new fresh cast. It didn't take off then, but now the idea was revisited.

For the movie to work for me, it had to be 1) good as a Trek movie, 2) good as a movie in itself and 3) pay homage to the franchise it is rebooting. So I watched the movie today.

Let's just say the movie blew away my expectations.

I'm sure there are a lot of reviews that talk about the plot in detail, but for this review I won't dwell much on it. Instead, I'll just give you a few thoughts on the movie.

The Kirk-Spock relationship - pretty much the core of the film. The movie explores Kirk and Spock's development's as individuals struggling to make it or fit in their respective worlds. Kirk is someone who lacks direction in life. He had no one to guide him in his life and went on his way living a life with reckless abandon, with no fear, something that shaped him as a captain. Spock on the other hand, is wrestling with his humanity (as much as we saw it in Star Trek IV) In essence the two are similar. Together they complement each other. Of course this would not effectively work without...

The New Crew - I am particularly impressed with the casting for the new crew of the Enterprise. Chris Pike shows a Kirk that is exactly what I envisioned of him from his younger years, but giving respect to the man who made the role, William Shatner. Zachary Quinto is spot on as the younger Spock, seemingly controlled yet with emotions boiled up inside. Karl Urban was perfect as Bones, bringing the much needed wit to the triumvirate that forms the center of the ensemble. Rounding up the rest of the cast - Simon Pegg had his moments as Scotty, with the perfunctory "It canna take any more!" line, John Cho who also had his moments as Sulu, Zoe Saldana as a strong willed Uhura and Anton Yelchin giving a decent performance as Chekov.

The Old Spock - Old Spock plays a large role in the film, and other than the Kirk-Spock relationship, his presence is the key to tying the old and the new continuities together. Leonard Nimoy never ceases to impress me. But after all, the man has been playing Spock for 40 years, so the role comes naturally to him. In a way this is a chance to pass the baton over to the new cast and crew. His presence improves the film tenfold for me. It's also nice to see what Spock has been up to since his last appearance in the Next Generation two parter "Unification."

The New Enterprise - kind of a mix between the original series Enterprise and the Refit Enterprise/Enterprise-A they made for the movies. The warp effects are more Star Warsy now with no flash at the end (well, the flash was originally intended to cover inconsistencies in the effects, but anyway.) The new bridge looks cool and upgraded from its 1960's look. The engineering deck has been given a total redesign, although from the original series you can tell that something like that was implied. Plus there are like 9000 new phaser arrays for the Enterprise (although there are still like 2 torpedo bays. Go figure.)

The effects - top notch. Great contrast between the Enterprise and the Narada interiors. The phaser, transporter and beam effects were also good. Interesting use of those lens flares. J.J. Abrams (or one of the other guys) was talking about how it represented the brighter more positive tomorrow Star Trek was supposed to represent.

The Homages - made me squeal in fanboy delight. The Vulcan learning thingy from Star Trek IV. Spock's lines from TOS and STVI. Scotty getting a taste of his own medicine ala STIV. The shuttlepods from ST:TMP. The cruel fact about Red Shirts from TOS. Plus that little line done in blatant reference to "The Naked Time."

The Trek-ness of the film - here is where many a Star Trek fan will cry out in Nerd Rage. "The film isn't CANON!" or "it's an action movie!" The theme of the movie may not have that sociopolitical/philosophical context that some of the TOS episodes or movies may have, but it can't be helped in a film that is basically made to establish the new continuity. It's the only gripe I have with the film but then again you can only do too much.

So in the end? Star Trek is a action packed thrill ride. Does it work as a Trek Movie? Yes, it belongs safely in my top five Trek Movies (as #4, guess what the others are.) Does it work as a movie, period? Yes, I believe it does, as I enjoyed it immensely. Does it pay respect to the series it was based upon? Yes.

So what are you waiting for? Go and watch it now!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Zatoichi-fest 2009!! A.K.A. "In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king"

Zatoichi, mildly put, is a story about a blind masseur who turns out to be a master swordsman who kicks many different levels of ass for the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed and for great justice. I just had to put in that last line.
Perhaps you’ve already watched the 2003 remake with Takeshi Kitano, and that one was quite a good film with swordplay, cross-dressing geisha and tapdancing! A jidaigeki film with tapdancing!? WTF, right? Many people might not have seen the other films, including a 26 movie series starring the legendary Shintaro Katsu, so I offer to you a few short reviews of a number of the original Katsu films, a 2008 remake and something a little extra.

1) The Tale of Zatoichi (Zatoichi Monogatari)
Scenario: The blind masseur Zatoichi is embroiled in a struggle between two warring factions. He wants nothing of it, of course, but fate conspires to entangle him in the conflict, as another strong ronin arrives at the village with motives of his own.

Comments: This is the first Zatoichi movie, and it is quite different in tone from the other movies. However, this movie establishes most of the plot devices seen in the other films: Zatoichi winning a ton at gambling due to his superhuman senses, him helping out the local townsfolk with their respective problems, and a climactic battle at the end. The action may not be as frenzied as the other movies (and here, there are only two real fighting/action sequences) the real draw of the movie comes from the character Ichi himself. As much as this movie pays attention to the other background characters, this movie is about Ichi himself (we’ll talk about this later in the other films.) This is a man who has acquired unrivaled skills, but does not want to use his skills for killing. The tone is quite serious compared to the other films as well as most of the drama going on.
Stuff: There’s no “swish” sound effect as Zatoichi cuts through his enemies. This is something that gets added on in the later movies of the series. That still doesn’t take away from the fact that he moves so fast sometimes that in the blink of an eye the sword is back in the sheath. Pretty kick-ass.
Rating: I’ll give this one 3.5/5 Katsus

2) Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (Zatoichi Senryo-kubi)

Scenario: After paying his respects to a man he killed (not really his fault,) Zatoichi comes to a town whose townspeople are celebrating because they just paid their taxes. However, thugs then steal said taxes, throwing the said town into one big SNAFU of epic proportions. Of course they blame the blind guy for it. Add a samurai with a whip (!!!) and some other yakuza who want to kill Ichi, and we have this movie.

Comments: This is an entertaining entry in the Zatoichi series, filled with the lightheartedness, kickassery and general frenzy that accompanies the best of the entries in the series. Here, Zatoichi is more a force of nature that passes by the village, and the real focus is in the characters that he meets and changes (or kills.) There isn’t a lot of development for Ichi himself, other than that he is a kind, honorable soul that only hates injustice. The intro sequence is pretty awesome too.
Stuff: Jushiro, the aforementioned whip bearing samurai, is none other than Tomisaburo Wakayama, Shintaro Katsu’s real life brother and star of the later Lone Wolf and Cub films. There was one point in the film when he fights with a katana that I could have sworn he was channeling a little Ogami Itto in there.
Rating: I’ll give this one 3.5/5 Katsus too.

3) Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword (Zatoichi Abare Tako)
Scenario: After being shot by some unscrupulous gentleman, Zatoichi is saved and cared for at an inn, with all expenses paid for by a mysterious benefactor. He decides to repay this person’s kindness by… er… living in this person’s house and doing stuff for them. Turns out this benefactor is the daughter of a local kind yakuza boss, whose river transport business is in danger of being taken over by a stuttering evil yakuza boss. Eventually, another SNAFU of epic proportions ensues. Throw in some fireworks at the end too.
Comments: This is one of the more action packed, plot-light Zatoichi movies. Again this portrays Ichi as a destructive force of nature and the focus is placed on the secondary characters and their individual motivations, although action is the focus of this one. Ichi may seem harmless, but when he kicks ass, he kicks ass. It also features a great fight scene at the end with excellent use of lighting as Zatoichi fights his way like through 50 men in a darkened hallway. IMO one of his best fight scenes at this point in time.
Stuff: It must have been a doozy transporting people by lifting them over your shoulders…
Rating: For the Action alone, I’ll give this one 4/5 Katsus.

4) Fight, Zatoichi, Fight
Scenario: Assassins are after Zatoichi. During one of their assassination attempts, a woman is killed in Ichi’s place, leaving behind a young boy. In her memory, Zatoichi then decides to take the boy to his father in a far province, while killing his assassins around. A pickpocket then joins in the fun at the middle, and at the end, everything is not what it seems to be as everything heads toward a great finale.
Comments: IMO one of the best Zatoichi movies. This movie is more a character study of Ichi himself. At points in the film a procession of the blind reminds us that Zatoichi’s journey is like a pilgrimage, although the intent and the destination are unknown, if any exists at all. Here the focus is on Ichi with a little on the pickpocket he saves. For the first time he is given the temptation of living a more normal life, or at least someone tangible to love in the form of the little boy. He seriously contemplates this at many points in the film, but in the end he realizes that his pilgrimage is one that he must make alone. These scenes, rife with symbolism, make it awesome for me. Aside from the usual Zatoichi staples, the movie diverts a little from the usual formula, along with a few twists towards the end. Add a number of really kick-ass action sequences (changing diapers and killing assassins at the same time? Is there anything more rife with kickassery?) and it makes for one of Ichi’s best adventures of the 26 movie series.
Stuff: This movie was directed by Kenji Misumi, who directed the first film.
Rating: This one deserves 5/5 Katsus.

5) Ichi (2008)
Scenario: Ichi, a blind shamisen player, comes upon a town in search of her father, a certain blind swordmaster (wink.) She then comes across two warring factions of thugs/yakuza, a ronin who cannot draw his sword, and other shenanigans.
Comments: First of all, let’s get something out of our chest.

Ayase Haruka.
Mmmmmmm. Okay. Take it in slowly. Now back to the comments. Wait, no. Let’s look at that a bit longer.
Okay. Ichi, directed by Ping Pong’s Fumihiko Sori, can either be considered a remake or a spiritual sequel to Zatoichi, this time using a cute girl as the titular ass kicking blind swordfighter. The movie contains the usual Zatoichi staples (gambling, helping people, SNAFU at the end) but inherently, compared to the Kitano remake and the Katsu film series, this film is more similar to the very first movie of the series (see above.) Some shots and scenes are very similar to the first film, and the serious/tragic atmosphere lacks the general wackiness/fun of the later Katsu films or the Kitano remake. Instead, the film is more of a meditation on the Zatoichi mythos as it is a reconstruction of it. Here is a young soul who is conflicted between good and evil, and torn between being apathetic to the world around her and finding a friend.
Lots of Ping Pong alums return to the film including a wildly overacting Shido Nakamura (the villain guy, forgot his name) to Yosuke Kubozuka (Peco), who plays the leader of one of the factions. Ayase Haruka does well as a cool yet conflicted, silent Ichi, nothing at all like the bumbling, he’s-humble-but-can-cut-off-your-head Ichi, which may be a plus or minus to you. Plus she’s cute. Nothing beats that.
Standing by itself, Ichi remains a decent film that I’d recommend, but compared to the many films of the series, it lacks a certain warmth the other films have.
Stuff: Ayase Haruka. Yep.
Rating: Compared to the others, I’ll give this one 3/5 Katsus.

6) Zato Duling: The adventures of the cross-eyed swordsman
LOL!!!!! No, this isn’t a joke. This was a Filipino spoof movie made in the 60’s. (They made tons of those I reckon.) Although I’ve only seen parts of it, it is (IIRC) the origin of the old joke about the Japanese Samurai, the American Samurai and the Filipino samurai. The fly cutting thing that the joke was based upon may have been inspired by a sequence in Zatoichi’s Flashing Sword. You might come upon this somewhere in Cinema One or something. Watch it I guess.


I'll give this one square root of -1 Katsus just for the LOLZ.

And that wraps it up for Zatoichi-fest 2009! Will there be a sequel? Knowing me, probably not, but who knows?