Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Tale of Three Cities 1: Tokyo!

For this little segment, we're going to be talking about omnibus films/anthologies revolving around cities. First up on the list: Tokyo.

Tokyo! is a collection of three films helmed by non-Japanese directors. The Tokyo connection is not as solid as you think, some of the pictures deal with universal themes of isolation, identity and longing.


Interior Design is directed by Michel Gondry, of such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind. Akira (Ryo Kase) is an aspiring filmmaker who moves to Tokyo along with his girlfriend Hiroko (Ayako Fujitani.) They crash in their mutual friend Akemi's (Ayumi Ito) apartment while hunting for an apartment of their own. As the days plod on, Hiroko finds herself disconnected from her life. She asks herself, 'what is my purpose in life?' Soon she realizes the answer to this question as the movie takes a sudden, surreal turn.

Interior Design is based on the comic "Cecil and Jordan in New York" by Gabrielle Bell. Of course the setting is changed to Tokyo, but the themes in this movie are still as relevant (probably even more so) in the Japanese setting.

Gondry uses his manipulation of visuals to depict the surreal aspects of the film; I won't spoil it for you, but the part at the end with the camera tricks and CG is quite fun to see. Add that to the usual visual flair: Akemi's apartment is cramped, especially with 3-4 people living in it at one time. The apartments Hiroko and Akira look at also are weird and unique in their own way.

The acting is solid. Kase is (as usual) good, and Fujitani shows her chops in more ways than one. The scenes themselves are funny, and the movie Akira screens may be a bit of a jab at the artsy fartsy-ness of some people. (Did that last sentence even make sense?)

What do you really want in life? The answer to that question, this movie says, may be different than the answer to 'what are you doing right now?' And, it seems, that is all the difference one needs.


Merde is directed by Leos Carax, a French filmmaker known for Lovers on the Bridge and Pola X. The titular character of the film (Denis Lavant) is a weird unkempt man who emerges from the sewers and wreaks havoc in the streets of Tokyo. At first he is merely an annoyance, but soon he begins to wreak death and destruction when he discovers a cache of old WWII grenades. He is captured and brought to trial.

The film itself is very abstract and open to interpretation, with messages on terrorism, media scrutiny (and parallels to media's intense voyeurism influencing the public) war, peace and the overall human condition. But for now lets settle on one of the most obvious parallels the film makes: Godzilla.

The Godzilla theme trumpets along the beginning of the film. Merde (French for 'shit') is more a force of nature than an actual person; both Godzilla and Merde are born by some fault of the people they terrorize. The acts he does are heinous, and it is hard to empathize with him in any way. His motivations are also driven by an almost one dimensional hate - whether that hate is justified or not does not justify his actions, but still this motivation exists.

Yet Godzilla is something of a cultural icon now, and, comparably, in the movie - some people actually sympathize with this wild man. So you have to wonder, what does Merde stand for now? What does he represent? Or, arguably, he may just simply be?

Anyway, nice film, an interesting cameo from Julie Dreyfus (Kill Bill) at the end too. At times, stuff does get a bit heavy handed, sometimes browbeating messages and symbolism to the viewer, and some scenes come off as a bit tedious. As the film is open to any interpretation, its a bit of a challenge to try to understand. But the overall product is okay, at the very least.


Shaking Tokyo is directed by Korean Bong Joon-ho, known for his films Mother, Memories of Murder and probably most popularly, The Host. The movie focuses on a hikkikomori, or shut-in played by Teruyuki Kagawa (Kisaragi, among others) who has completely shut himself out of the world and all social contact. His life is a regimen of regularity that he considers his perfect world. One day, he meets a pizza girl (Yu Aoi) and his perfect world begins to crumble.

I've mentioned the phenomenon of hikkikomori in earlier posts: people who, due to a collection of societal and psychological factors, decide to shut themselves off from the world, and stay that way because of how society is put together. In this case, Japanese society, with its aggressive school culture of getting to top universities, entrance exams, etc etc, plus the intrusion of technology, plus the slumping job market in the face of recession, plus the ever increasing cost of living all contribute to the phenomenon, so much so that government has acknowledged it to be a national problem. This sense of despair or failure that drives them to isolate themselves is something I am familiar with myself (although as you can see, I'm not a shut in lol)

Teruyuki Kagawa is superb as the main character. This dude is everywhere these days - TV, movies, what have you. Yu Aoi once again proves why she is one of the top actresses of her generation in Japan (and my personal favorite haha) despite having little screen time in the movie.

The movie has a cute sci-fi flavor to it that complements the story nicely. Some of the shots are amazing, and I mean that in a logistical manner too - how the heck did Bong Joon-ho get these shots? The repetition of elements in some shots also complements the notion of this empty yet "perfect" world.

This film is my favorite of the omnibus. It's simple but works well, and it captures the essence of the themes it explores while not being too heavy handed about it.

Overall Tokyo! is a mixed bag, but one worth seeing.

Five Guys and a Room

Five Guys, One Room. That's almost the whole premise of Kisaragi, a 2007 movie by Yuichi Sato. Under any other circumstance this kind of movie is a total bust. It almost sounds like theater on film. If you know me as a moviegoer, I hate theater on film. But excellent plotting and storytelling makes this a standout movie.

Iemoto, OdaYuuji, Snake, Yasuo and StrawberryGirl are five hardcore fans of the D-list idol Miki Kisaragi. They've come for a get-together in a small rented apartment for a reason: to remember and celebrate their favorite idol. You see, Miki Kisaragi died of apparent suicide a year ago under mysterious circumstances. Now one of the fans suspects that she was actually murdered, and thinks that one of the other four is the real killer...

I won't spoil anything else about the film, but what I can tell is you is that no one is what they seem at first to be. The joy of watching the film comes from each shocking revelation that takes place about either one of the five fans or Kisaragi herself. This layered plotting works superbly well and makes you want to learn want to learn every new thing that comes up. The most clever thing the filmmakers did is make the secret knowable seconds before it is actually revealed. You get chills down your spine every time you realize who is who.

The Japanese Idol phenomenon has been going on for more or less forty years, and it is a phenomenon that has its own Japanese flavor. Many aspiring young ladies (and young men too) enter the entertainment industry as Idols to hopefully break in and transition into acting, singing, modeling or some other field. While some are successful, others die out and fizzle into obscurity. Such is the fickle world of showbusiness.

In the movie you can see the fans' diehard obsession with the object of their dreams collecting their CDs, taking pictures, or keeping ultra-rare Shashinshuu (photobooks) not to mention other things that would be called stalker-ish behavior in some other country. As creepy as it sounds... well it probably is to you and me, the movie takes a heartwarming turn with it later in the movie. And for some reason, it works.

The actors are what make the movie succeed other than the excellent plot. Shun Oguri (Crows Zero,) Yusuke Santamaria (Doppleganger,) Keisuke Koide (Surely Someday,) Tsukaji Muga (lots of TV stuff) and Teruyuki Kagawa (whew. name your pick) round out the all-star cast. All of them succeed in their roles, transforming with every revelation.

All in all, just watch it. It does with five guys and a room stuff that billion dollar SFX extravaganzas can barely pull off.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One Man's Ongoing Cinematic Oddysey: Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl

The following took place as the author tried to write a review of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. But little did the author know, that the story in making such a review is filled with many horrors...

This is that story.

Place: The writing studio of Present Confusion

Time: 1am


(studio? is this even a studio?)

Well, the title basically says it all. I mean, what else are you going to expect when I tell you that the movie is freaking called Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl? It's not as if Violent Cop was about human rights activists in Tibet. I mean, come on. If you saw a movie like this and there were no vampires or Frankenstein's monsters, I'd ask for my fucking money back.

*sigh* deletes

Time: 2:30am

So basically Monami Arukado (Arukado = Alucard. Get it? Wahahahahaha I'm so clever. Harharrrrr!)

erm...

*sigh* deletes

Time: 3:00am

Based on a manga by Shungiku Uchida, Monami (gravure idol Yukie Kawamura) is a vampire. She likes this guy Mizushima (Takumi Saito, Boys Love.) But he already belongs to Keiko (Eri Otoguro, Oneechambara.) So they... wait a minute. I'm actually trying to discuss the plot... of a movie... called Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl? What the fuck?

*sigh* deletes

Time: 3:10am

Basically the movie is a splattergore fest in the vein of recent movies such as Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl and so on. All of them unsurprisingly had gravure idols somewhere in there. It must be the "talent."

Time: 3:15am

Yukie Kawamura. Yes, I can see that "talent" overflowing know what I mean? hee hee. Seriously though she was okay and is overall an OK actress, with roles in Ultraman and a few other horror movies. The movie was pretty much THIS but with blood all over her.

Eh, might as well show Eri Otoguro too.
YEAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Time: 3:20

...so the movie has these little segments parodying people who cut their wrists. There's even a contest in there. They even put in actress/makeup artist turned fake U-15 turned chaku-ero turned JAV actress Maki Mizui to portray the wrist cutting champion. Thing is, if you've seen her JAV or chaku-ero, she really has a ton of cutting scars on her left arm. I'm dead fucking serious.

Uhh... therapist?

*sigh* deletes

Time 3:30

...and moving on, in one of the segments Ganguro subculture is portrayed in an even MORE over the top manner that it just breaks my brain in half. Run like Joyner sistahhhh. I think blackface has reached a whole new level.

Time: 3:32

CHANGE! CHANGE! CHANGE! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!

...

*sigh* deletes

Time: 3:40

Oh, man. Fuck. I was about to tell you about... pfff what the hell man? How do reviewers keep a straight face when talking about the cinematography, themes and crap of a magnificent film like Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl?

"Oh, those shots when this dude cuts up that other dude was so sick, reminiscent of stuff blah blah blah. I have never seen such a well done 'skeleton impaled on the Tokyo Tower' scene before. Mainly because there has never been one before in the HISTORY OF CINEMA."

*sigh* deletes

Time: 4:00

So I was walking down the street minding my own business and this guy approaches me, and he says, "dude, have you seen that new movie Inception? It's like super awesome" and I was like "pfffffhhhh who cares, fucking Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl is on"

*sigh* deletes

Time: 4:10

Diggity damn fuck face sparkly vampire shit. When I see vampires, I want my vampires to suck blood and chew my eyeballs, not sparkle and whine like sissies. If there's only one vampire movie about a dysfunctional love triangle that you have to see in this decade, let it be fucking Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl.

How many Frankenstein's monsters has the tobacco smoking power of a Chinese man, and can helicopter-fly with a v-shaped rotor? How do those aerodynamics work anyway?

Time: 5:00

This is your classic B-grade Japanese 'extreme gore' movie. Ridiculously stupid, but that's what makes it fun.

Time: 5:01

CHANGE! CHANGE! CHANGE! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN! YES WE CAN!

Vampire Obama wants YOU!

*sigh* deletes

THE END

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Power of Dreams


Have you ever had a dream so powerful it affected you in reality? Have you ever experienced something in a dream so vivid, that you could swear it was actually real?

Christopher Nolan's latest offering, Inception, is a treatise on dreams and reality. Nolan himself has always been curious with the nature of reality. He explored this in the context of memories in his film Memento. Here he explores this concept in the context of dreams and dream-space.

Cobb (Leonardo Di Caprio) is an extractor, a man who intrudes into the dreams of others to steal personal information. He mainly uses this for corporate espionage. During one such attempt, corporate executive Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers him a deal: perform the act of inception: planting an idea into someone else's mind instead of stealing it. This is way harder than it sounds, but Saito offers Cobb the chance to return home to his family in exchange for success. He assembles a team to undertake this near impossible mission, but it soon becomes clear that in the process of undertaking this mission, he must confront a secret from his past.

The visual style of the film joins other contemporary films in their depiction of the manipulation of dream-space, such as Michel Gondry's the Science of Sleep and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the Japanese animated film Paprika. But in this film, with the exception of Paprika, the ways people change the dream reality looks quite impressive thanks to breathtaking visual effects. Streets blow up, trains rampage through city streets, gravity-less corridors shake and tumble.

Hans Zimmer does the soundtrack and it is reminiscent of his work with Nolan's The Dark Knight, with deep and epic tones that accentuate the movie well. I watched the movie in a 3D cinema with booming sounds that thundered with every shake and explosion, which was nice (the last time I had an experience like this was while watching The Matrix in a foreign theater.)

The movie is rounded out by an all-star cast that includes Ellen Page (Juno, Red Candy) Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Sunshine) Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai) and Marion Cotillard (La vie En Rose - the song in Inception that plays that signals the 'kick' is sung by Edith Piaf, whom Cottilard portrayed in La vie En Rose) They all do their job capably, although except for Di Caprio's character, the other characters are not given as much emotional scenes in the first place. Let me just say for the record again that Ellen Page is one of my favorite actresses of this generation, and her role as Ariadne/the Architect is solid.

The layered structure of the second half of the movie looks complicated on paper, but is quite simple to understand as compared to Memento, whose structure was most challenging. As long as you know which dream belongs to which, you'll do fine. In any case, trying to figure out the structure of the layered dreams was quite fun.

The premise of the entire movie lends itself to interpretation and the ending leaves open many possibilities. As for what I think, see below:


SPOILERS













The film can be structured as that of Cobb's own journey towards his own catharsis (instead of just Fisher's.) Whether all these events were played out by either Mal in a higher state (a true reality) or Cobb himself, making the whole thing actually a dream, or making these events play out as a result of his recent experiences with his team, we may never know. For all we know, Cobb himself was the one being given an Inception - that he should get over the death of his wife, etc, etc.

By killing the dream version of his wife (or having her killed by someone else lol), Cobb has decided to move on. So does the spinning top stop? For Cobb, it doesn't really matter. I believe that's the point of the whole scene. It was designed to involve the viewer in making a point - that reality is subjective.

If you're an optimist, the top will stop. If you're a pessimist, the top will go on. But for Cobb, none of that matters - notice that he went to see his kids without seeing if the top stopped or not. By electing to look at his kids' faces, he is letting go of all the reservations he has for doubting this reality. He has stopped his obsession or preoccupation with whether things are real or not. He has accepted this, (whatever it is) as this reality.

Being an optimist, my interpretation is that he has indeed returned to reality. Ariadne did say that he will be fine, and him dragging Saito out of the next dream level would have made no sense. He mentioned to Saito that to return to the base reality would make them young again, to make them live life without regrets. In the last scene he does just that - without bothering to check, he no longer feels that regret he had for the death of his wife.

Ultimately, like I have previously mentioned, the movie was Cobb's emotional journey into his own personal catharsis - his reconciliation with his past and his regrets. This is in line with my posited premise of the film itself - that through dreams, people can change, either because of others or because of their own selves.













END SPOILERS

It's the best 2 hours and 30 minutes I've spent in a theater in recent days. Never a boring moment and like all good movies, it sparks discussion like crazy, making the audience an intimate part of the film viewing process. Easily one of the best of the year.

Here's an interesting site where the author compares the main characters to Jungian archetypes in dream analysis:
http://www.cinemablend.com/new/What-If-Inception-Were-Analyzed-By-Dream-Experts-19638.html

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cinemalaya 2010: Shorts B, Rekruit and final thoughts

The festival is finally over. What an awesome lineup. 9 films from the new generation, five from the veterans, and ten short films. I missed one New Breed film (Limbunan,) but that's the only one. Here are the last movies I watched in the dwindling hours in the festival. Were they worth it? Absolutely.

SHORT FILMS CATEGORY - SHORTS B

Harang

My favorite short of the entire competition. I was blown away to be perfectly honest. In Evolutionary Biology there is what we call the Price Equation. It can be used in any kind of natural selection process, but if used in relation to altruism, it has some serious implications on the evolution of kindness itself. The implications are that altruism in itself may actually be selfish, and that as much as the genetic tendency to be kind can evolve to be dominant, The reverse can happen: opposite self serving behaviors like inter-racial strife or doing harm - the opposite of kindness, may also become the norm. These realizations led the man who came up with the equation to a life of radical charity, destitution and eventual suicide.

The characters in this short all are given an opportunity to give help, and they are placed in situations in which to seek it. Some do not help at all, expressing true selfish behavior. Others help but only to a certain extent - where he or she would not be affected by his or her choice. Ironically none of the characters help each other out of true altruism at all.

Man is a selfish creature; even in the facade of helping, man is trying to do so for someone else's collective benefit, which would translate into his own. It's a sobering thought. What are the barriers between two strangers? What are the barriers that prevents him from helping or not?

Well, rant over. That just shows how awesome this movie is. 5 roadblocks over 5.

Hay Pinhod Oh Ya Scooter

The presence of a narrator was strange but made absolute sense in the end. The non-actors chosen for their roles were mostly speaking out their lines, which made scenes unnatural - although in the context of what the film eventually would become, it might be intentional. Technically the film is sound. The short makes focus on how people can slowly lose their cultural roots in the face of globalization.

3.5 scooters out of 5.

Lola

Short animated film about a couple of movie making dudes hiring a ghost for their horror film. It's okay. Nothing much of note. 2.5 scary lolas out of 5.

P

Again, another really fun story from Milo Tolentino. I'm not going to tell you anything about the plot so as not to spoil anything. Figure out what P means for yourself; it means a lot of things. Very very entertaining and quite well done. 4.5 N95 Masks over 5.

Wag Kang Titingin

A very simple story with a twist ending. I recommend this one. 4 compasses over 5.

NEW BREED CATEGORY

Rekruit

Jamir and Lando are both part of a group of soldiers that will undergo special training for an as-yet unknown mission. The group is composed mainly of Muslims who join the training to provide for their families via the stipend that was promised if they joined, and an automatic inclusion into the Philippine Armed Forces if they completed the training.

The training is hard and physically draining, but through it all the recruits bond and form a close brotherhood. But soon things do not appear as they seem and the soldiers have to decide between their loyalty and honor to their desire not to do harm.

Rekruit is based on the Jabidah massacre, a horrible event that had its beginnings in the Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos presidencies. The repercussions of the massacre led to the emergence of radical Moro insurgencies and the later appearance of the MNLF, later MILF. As a member of the same ethnic tribe as those involved in the massacre, this fact resonated personally during my viewing of the movie.

It then seems rather ironic that this movie was a story of brotherhood that crosses religious borders. In the dramatization of the ultimate act of betrayal of people of different faiths, there is an advocacy for a desire for peace and kindness to all.

The film seems to have been captured on two kinds of cameras; one that brings a clear film-worthy picture, and another brings a sharper, TV-quality picture. Since scenes intercut with those taken on either camera, the effect is sometimes jarring. The cinematography itself is excellent. All the actors deliver noteworthy performances; by the end of the film you will feel as if you were with these people during their training, sharing their pains and experiences.

One of the best of the festival. Now give me 9 push ups over ten on the double!

NOTES:

Links on the Jabidah massacre:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jabidah_massacre (compare with the events of the film)
http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20080318-125522/Lone-survivor-recalls-Jabidah-Massacre

In the massacre, only one person survived the carnage, managing to escape by holding on to a piece of driftwood and swimming all the way to Cavite.

Final thoughts on the Festival

Overall the festival was a success. Attendance was over the top, with many screenings sold out. Unfortunately, other than that one midnight screening, I was unable to watch any non-competition entries. Priorities I guess. Stars came out in droves to support their films and the film industry. With the participation of veteran directors, the festival has gained another level of credibility.

I was glad to see the audience engaging with the people involved in the making of the film. Cinema as an artform is composed of the filmmakers, the film itself, and the people who watch the film. What worth is a film if no one watches it? To the directors and actors involved, continue engaging with the filmgoer.

My favorite Cinemalaya years were 08 and 09. This one maintains the overall high quality, but there wasn't really one film that totally blew me away. That's just a subjective thing however, and I'm sure others must have loved some films like I did the old ones. And that doesn't mean that any of the films were bad in any way, none were.

My thoughts on who will win? The old guard of intellectual cineastes from the era of the 70s and 80s Golden Era of Cinema will probably lap up movies like Sigwa and Ang Paglilitis... The younger film student or casual movie goers will go for an entertaining, 'kwela' film.

My personal favorites were Sampaguita, The Leaving and Rekruit. Two Funerals was the most fun full length movie for me in the whole competition. Mayohan was the prettiest (and cutest.) The shorts this year were quite amazing, a big leap from 09. Harang is my absolute favorite movie over the past 2 or 3 years.

I look forward to knowing the winners of this year's festival. I'm pretty sure my tastes will clash with the people who decide the winners (I chose Engkwentro last year and it won like nothing, at least in the festival. It did win in Venice, so revenge for me there haha.)

What will the future bring? God willing I'll be back in 2011, and hopefully there will be more stories, more experiences, more amazing films.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Cinemalaya 2010: Si Techie, Si Technoboy at Si Juana B, and Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio

The Festival is winding down, but the movies aren't finished yet. Here we have yet another entry from the New Breed, and probably the most curious from the Director's showcase.

NEW BREED CATEGORY

Si Techie, Si Technoboy at Si Juana B

Techie and Jay are both OFWs about to get married. They return to the Philippines to do just that. Along the way she comes to meet her best friend Juana B. An aspiring filmmaker drifting in and out of jobs, Juana is a bit of a weirdo and a dreamer. Unlike her friend Techie, who constantly uses her laptop to surf the net, chat or visit social networking sites, Juana does her stuff the old fashioned way, using an old cellphone for contact and taking notes instead of using Microsoft Word or something.

In the last 15 or so years, we have seen a huge shift in the way we communicate with each other. With the advent of computers and technology, the distance between people seem shorter, and neither distance nor time matter that much anymore. The life has become so convenient due to these technological advancements that people can live almost completely off the internet. People have staged year long experiments subsisting on almost nothing but online shopping.

But at what price?

This film takes the old narrative conflict of Man vs. Technology and subverts it, making man and technology allies against other men. In addition, the concept of human relationships are mixed into the whole thing. The Machine/Technology as an entity now acts as a surrogate for other people or as a middleman. Want to hook up with friends? Facebook or Twitter. Want to speak with someone? There's chat. Want to bone some hot chick? Cybersex.

Yes, technology helps facilitate relationships, but on the other hand this interference of technology corrodes the way we make relationships with other people. There are so many moments in the movie that punctuate this point. While Techie fails to meet up with Teknoboy, Juana B instantly gets a man in a hilarious way. In another scene, Juana and Techie are literally sitting beside each other - yet Techie uses a cell phone as a surrogate or middle man to talk to her friend. That was probably the most telling for me. In extremes, technology causes us to lose our sight of the world around us, making the convenience of technology feed back, causing increasing social isolation. We see it all the time in the socially disillusioned of Japan, the hikkikomori, where technology in the setting of social pressures and disillusionment makes isolation far easier.

There's one problem, though. The presentation of the concept doesn't work as well as I would have wanted it to. The moments themselves work far better than the dialogue, with some lines feeling like they were forced or shoehorned into the scene. Although a kinky comedy, some scenes struck me as more corny than anything else. The best dialogue if you can call it that is during the end credits. It's an interesting summation of the things we've experienced during the film plus a few more points.

The rest of the film is decent enough to at least make the viewer reflect on that very concept, although with a bit better material and some good execution it would have worked a whole lot better. 7 black dildos over 10.

Ang Paglilitis ni Andres Bonifacio

Andres Bonifacio is one of our national heroes, leader of the Katipunan, and one of the fathers of the Philippine Revolution. I didn't really know much other than that until my college days, when I found that his last days were intertwined with what seems like a turf war between the Magdalo and the Magdiwang factions, culminating in his death.

Seeing the trailers for this movie made me squirm. It looked exactly like a Theater Play on Film. Theater productions have their place, in my humble opinion, and Film has its own place in the cavalcade of the arts. Acting in film is more subtle, the dialogue less blatant or descriptive. I honestly didn't think this would work in any way, and I was prepared to hate it.

I didn't hate it at all. And although I didn't exactly like the total end result, what I did see was quite interesting.

The film is based on accounts, transcriptions and reports on the events of Andres Bonifacio's arrest on account of treason against the newly formed Revolutionary Government. The incident that sparked this is not shown; thus we do not know what really happened. We, as the viewers, are left to judge guilt on innocence based only on the testimonies presented, leaving us in the shoes of judge and jury.

After learning what had happened to Bonifacio, including the Magdalo's betrayal of his faction, I pretty much viewed the film with a bias towards him. But the film itself seems to at least try to take a balanced view on the matter, as it does not portray Aguinaldo explicitly ordering the death of his colleague. Again, the film leaves it to us to decide who really made the final decision.

Again, I must state that this is basically a Theater Play on Film. Thoughts and inner feelings are shown in abstract sequences, replacing the setting with a stage filled with symbolism. It kinda reminds me of the Zarzuelas with their combination of song and stage performance. The usage of camera makes it possible to capture emotions that might not be possible to percieve on stage.

We are provided with a narrator to help us through the film. Designed to be an androgynous, omnipresent force in the film's development, he/she/it serves as our guide, occasionally feeding us some thoughts on the characters and their futures. At times the narrator is neutral. At other times it taunts the other characters, even seemingly antagonizing them.

The film makes allusions to the structure of this story to the mythology of Ibong Adarna. Bonifacio himself, taking the role of Juan, seeks the mythical bird in certain sequences, perhaps a metaphor for whatever he truly wanted for the Philippines (peace? unity? to cleanse his name?) But here there are no happy endings like the myth. Ultimately he fails to achieve his goal (although we know through history that others will achieve it for him) and is lost forever.

The acting is solid for Alfred Vargas and whoever played the narrator. Dona Gregoria was okay, but the rest of the actors were forgettable. That would probably be affected by the fact that they acted this as if they were in a play, exaggerating some scenes. Again, the theater =/= film thing rears its ugly head here. There were some anachronisms in the sets, but nothing too noticeable.

All in all, I was surprised with this film. It shows you how an accomplished director can transform what seems like a hopelessly bad concept into something that actually works stylistically. 7 national heroes over 10.

Cinemalaya 2010: Shorts A, Halaw, The Leaving, Pink Halo-Halo + Midnight Extra

Okay. Hoo boy. This day was a frenzy of movie watching. This is going to be a lot of stuff. Here we go...

SHORT FILMS CATEGORY - SHORTS A

Boca

Unfortunately, we only caught the credits of the film. Regrettable, since this was the one short film I was anticipating.

So, uhh... I guess the credits were, uh... good? 5000 awesome credits/?

Breakfast with Lolo

Short and simple. Based on what looks like a true story. A lolo and his grandson share some bonding time together. That's it. It's the little things in life that seem to strike us most profoundly. Those memories stick in your mind forever, and you are all the better for experiencing it.

TL;DR version: seize the day. It's cute. 3.5 pancakes/5

Dalaw

A woman (Che Ramos) visits her elderly grandmother. You have to kind of read between the lines to understand what's going on. It soon becomes clear her introspection reflects on her grandmother's own experiences. Excellently shot with good attention to shot composition and detail. My only complaint would be the audio. Sometimes you can barely hear any dialogue, so thank goodness for subtitles. 4 pinwheels /5

Despedida

Michael is a man who looks after his terminally ill parents. He then meets a cute girl (Angel Aquino) who totally talks to him out of the blue. This was a fun short, I'm sure the lot of you will get it midway. Great dialogue, straight to the point, pretty clever storywise. Solid. 3.5 tombstones/5

Faculty

Two college professors clash over conflicting beliefs regarding the education of students. For the record, I believe that participating in rallies is a choice and should not be forced upon students. True immersion in true participation takes a change in base attitudes. So I'm taking a middle ground between the two extremes presented in the film. I just don't fully agree with either prof. 3.5 shot glasses/5

NEW BREED CATEGORY

Halaw

A number of years ago, when I spent my vacation in Labuan, a small island in Sabah, Malaysia, I came across a small riverside 'town-on-stilts,' much like the seaside communities of the Badjao in many parts of Mindanao. Not surprisingly, most of the inhabitants of that community was comprised of illegal immigrants from the Philippines, some of them probably distant relatives of mine. My uncle then told me that such things were commonplace here; people engage in trafficking persons inside Malaysia from the Philippines (and sometimes even vice versa,) as the distance between the two countries by sea isn't that far at all. Since then I've heard that the community was torn down by Malaysian authorities.

So this year's offering by Sherwin Dayoc, Halaw, hits me deeply in a personal way, because I have seen this activity before. The setting is Tawi-Tawi (although it can be any of the island provinces in Western Mindanao/ARMM) where Jahid and his daughter (according to the pamphlet anyway, but IIRC from the dialogue she was his sister) Daying are preparing to make the trip to Sabah on boat. The movie gives us hints that the mother has already made the trip, and the two are preparing to join her there.

The person responsible for their trip is Hernand, a kind of fixer responsible for white slavery to and from Malaysia. Although he seems reassuring towards his clients, it's obvious that part of this recruitment has something to do with some illegal sex trade ring, and he's exactly not after the best interests of the people he approaches.

Along with other people who embark on the trip on dreams of their own, in order to escape a life where they see no future, they chug along the precarious seas to the nearest Malaysian island.

Around 70 percent of the dialog is in Tausug. There are subtitles to accompany the spoken dialogue, but it is not a line by line translation. The subs capture the gist of the dialogue but some people may wonder why the subtitles look inconsistent. I can understand the a good chunk of the language so I hardly needed the subs anyway, but I wonder how it went for the other moviegoers that didn't understand the language.

The acting is solid, with accomplished actors and non-actors joining the fray. Nothing looks manufactured or artificial, as the acting is more or less natural and flows well with the story.

The movie looks gorgeous in its own unique way. In contrast with Mayohan which used vibrant colors and saturation of light, Halaw is filmed mostly at night, with a darker palette; some even taking place in near total darkness. Yet still, the shots are well made, overcoming technical limitations with digital video and darkness, much as Mayohan did with scenes during the night. This is thanks to clever lighting and possibly filming close to dawn or dusk when a little sunlight accentuates the seascape.

Halaw is a prime example of film as a voice for social issues at large. Being a documentary filmmaker, Sherwin Dayoc uses this story to tell us about the issue of illegal human trafficking in Mindanao. That is the point of the movie itself; using these characters and their stories to point to a reality that few of us know. And in it, the sea itself takes a curious role as a player in this film, being a vast barrier to an uncertain future, meaning both life and death to many.

Definitely one of the most unique movies I've seen in the festival to date. 7.5 illegal immigrants over 10.

The Leaving

A man begins to leave his old life to start over from scratch. An illicit affair spirals into destruction. A wife struggles with the nuances and difficulties of married life.

The Leaving is hard to categorize. It is part Asian horror movie, part love story, part drama. Set in the backdrop of the Chinese Ghost Festival, or Spirit Day, where spirits of loved ones come out from the lower realms, The Leaving is composed of three different interrelated stories occuring in the same time frame (as one segment finishes, the other loops back to the beginning of this time frame, but from a different perspective) revealing a piece of the whole picture one at a time.

The matryoshka doll-like structure of the film appeals to me a great deal, as aspects of scenes from the first part of the film make more sense in the second part, and even more sense by the end. It's such an engaging experience to unravel another part of the story. The Simpsons had an episode like this, IIRC, and (in a way) so did the 2004 movie Primer (see my review of Primer in my blog entry for the Alfred Sloan Prize winners)

The first segment reminds me a bit of the "expired pineapple" Chungking Express segment, with its themes of loneliness and the inability to move on. Oh, and there's horror. It's not too jarring, and the spirits that Martin sees seem to be natural here. One would expect a garbled mishmash of genres at the end, but for some reason it works. I can't exactly explain why.

The second segment amps up the horror a bit. It explains a few peculiar things during our first 'run through' of the whole story. As the first tells us of the impact the lack of love brings to one's life, this part tells us that love is destructive. And if I didn't make it clear before, there's MORE horror.

The third segment wraps it up, tying both the first and second segments neatly, returning to the Wong Kar-wai-ish themes of transcience, loneliness and longing that punctuated the first. There is a seeming impermanence in the world by the actions of the characters and the apartment complex-as-living-organism. And by the way, there's EVEN MORE horror.

The film's characters are all Tsinoys in one form or another, and the film is a reflection on Filipino-Chinese cultural values. Martin admits that he hasn't gone to temples that much anymore. His parents have migrated to the US. I find it interesting that I didn't realize that some characters were Tsinoys at all; in a way a loss of cultural identity.

On the other hand, some aspects of the culture don't change at all - more a fault of human nature than anything else. Marriages break down and concubines run aplenty, and the wife is still expected to be obedient to the husband. Most telling is the part where one character, after telling her mother of her husband's infidelity, is scolded by that same mother to be a dutiful wife, saying that all this is the wife's fault. Now the wife is beginning to stray from cultural norms (I'm not an expert on Chinese culture so feel free to correct me) but does that justify staying to the old cultural roots?

The movie for me would have been perfect if not for the audio. I'm just going to spit it out: I'm not sure if it's because of a technical problem at the time of screening, but the audio was terrible. Some scenes have characters talking so faintly that you could not hear them (and I was seated near the speakers) either drowned out by something else, or something's screwed up with the levels. Subtitles helped salvage that. Another problem with the audio is it makes transitions and/or scare moments obvious, since you can audibly hear the audio track or whatever changing - making key scenes easily read by the audience.

All in all I think we have a winner here people. This was a film that surprised me with its unique plot structure and mix of themes. Go ahead and watch it. And tell me if there was really a problem with the audio. I'm giving this 9 hungry ghosts out of 10, minus 0.5 for the poor audio.

DIRECTOR'S SHOWCASE CATEGORY

Pink Halo-Halo

The life of a soldier is a hard one; he constantly faces death in the eye away form his loved ones, a short vacation his only respite. It's a lonely life, but one filled with honor. To those that lose their lives for their country, however, the pain for the ones that they leave behind is all too real. This film, directed by Joselito Altarejos, is dedicated to (presumably) his father, a 2nd Lieutenant who died in the seventies. In essence, the film's purpose is similar to the short Breakfast with Lolo (see above.)

Natoy is just like any other kid; he fights mock gun battles with his friends, he goes to school like any other kid. In this film he acts as a persona or reflection of the director himself. He has a close relationship with his father, a corporal in the Philippine Army. Natoy does not like the fact that his father has to go to all these places and risk his life as it makes his mother sad.

There isn't much more to say as the message of the film is very simple. At the same time, the film is a statement in itself about war and the damage it causes not only to the people directly involved, but with collateral damage along the way. Natoy's brother participates in a play detailing the war between Moros and Christians; movies glorifying war are strewn all over the local cineplex; the shooting games the boys play also figure into the overall picture.

The images are clear and crisp, captured in glorious HD. There are a lot of yellow and orange hues especially in the Halo-Halo store. The acting is great on all sides; the kid who played Natoy was pretty good.

So take a peek at this film. It's okay by me. 7 wooden guns over 10.

EXTRA! MIDNIGHT SHOW

This one isn't in the competition, but since I watched it, what the hell, right?

Ben & Sam

Ben is a film student who plays basketball and stuff. Sam is also a film student who happens to be gay. You know where this is going, right? Come on.

Unfortunately, the film comes off as overindulgent, and tries too hard to be artsy. There is lavish attention to detail (more on that later) but with no extras many scenes look weird. It's as if the college they were attending had a total of 15 students.

Cinematography and set design are quite good. Good use of the camera on some scenes, but again, some shots are just overindulgent. The acting is okay. The lady who play's Ben's slightly off kilter mother steals the show with her weird dialogue and actions. The lady who plays Ben's girlfriend is a love or hate thing. She will either annoy you or entertain you with her histrionics.

The apple becomes a cinematic motif, signifying the forbidden fruit. They really love those apples though, and I mean that in more ways than one. See what I did there? Another thing I noticed is that considering the taboo nature of this relationship in our society today, people in relative authority (parents and coaches and whatnot) in this film tend to approve the relationship of the titular characters. Which is something I felt a bit off.

Well enough about that. The most interesting parts of the film to me are the debates about film that are in essence reflective of this very film. The debates talk about the depiction of truth; yet in this film, at first, the truth is something none of the characters seem to accept. The debates talk about how the depiction of an unconventional relationship and how it evolves, and in this film that's exactly what we see.

Finally, the debates talk about gay films themselves. Perhaps an appeal to legitimacy? I've seen that some people tend to stereotype independent films with gay films. Now look back at all the films I've reviewed this week. How many of them are gay films other than this one? I'll wait. Are you back yet? The answer is zero, right? Others seem to reject the film a priori based only on the concept that it is a gay film. As far as I'm concerned, if the movie it's good, it's good. I really don't care what it is about. I hope the genre doesn't become a cliche, and I fear it already might have done so.

That, however, is the problem with this film. I'll be frank and say it wasn't that good. It offers nothing new, and instead of making the viewer involved, via an emotional connection, it decides to fanservice and tittilate (at least for some people out there.) Sone scenes don't flow smoothly and exist only to establish something, or don't have a point at all. And conversely, some scenes linger too much on the subject, pressing the point over and over again. Case in point: we GET it, you're super sad about (end of the film.) On to the credits please.

Do yourself a favor and skip this one. If you're still interested I'm not going to stop you, but there are far more interesting films both in same genre and tackling the same concepts, done in a more satisfying way.

Plus, interpretative dance? oooookaaayyyy....

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cinemalaya 2010: Magkakapatid, Two Funerals

This time, one from the new breed, one from an established director.

NEW BREED CATEGORY

Magkakapatid

Disclaimer: Thanks to traffic, I missed a good 20 minute chunk from the start of the film, so my thoughts on this one are incomplete.

I'm an only child, so I have not experienced what it feels like to have a brother or sister.The closest I ever got was through my cousins, and even that is nothing compared to the real thing. That said, bonds between brothers and sisters are strong. But as some people say, the stronger the bond, the more catastrophic it's going to be once things fall apart.

Magkakapatid is a drama that focuses on these dynamics. Three threads intertwine together with the theme of family bonds: Julio Diaz plays a barangay captain who falls into conflict with his daughters; he cannot let go of a daughter who plans to marry. Meanwhile his sister (in law?) Maring, is married to a rich dude who cheated on her. Even after her husband's death, Maring's daughter could not forgive her father for what he had done. And finally, older sister Adeling's (Ces Quesada) two sons face conflicts of their own: the elder brother is cruel and torments his younger brother Caloy, who has a history of mental problems, including multiple personalities.

Unfortunately, I was unable to see the film in its entirety and managed only to view the midpoint to the resolutions of these conflicts; eventually in a weird way these conflicts would bring the whole family together again.

The acting is solid on all fronts, no technical problems here. Archie Adamos plays an effective comic foil. The ending was a bit rushed, but that's only my perspective, given that the missing first part that I didn't watch could still tie up the ending better.

It would be unfair to give a rating to the movie since I didn't watch it yet, so instead of over ten, this one's going to be over five.

3.5 bloody corpses/5 plus or minus whatever was supposed to be in the establishing part. Nice film overall.

DIRECTOR'S SHOWCASE CATEGORY

Two Funerals

At around the time of Holy Week, a freak accident with a bus and 18-wheeler claims many lives, including Charm, a youth leader and daughter of Pilar (Tessie Tomas) the usual drama ensues, but it soon becomes clear that there's been some sort of a mishap: the body inside the coffin isn't that of her daughter at all.

Meanwhile, hundreds of kilometers away, a jueteng dealer learns of his elder brother's death (from the same accident as above) when the dead body is brought to his house. The elder brother in question, Dodong, was not the nicest of persons; by all accounts he was pretty much the evil bastard. With no money for a funeral, the jueteng dealer decides to use the barangay chairman's hatred of his brother to finance the funeral. After all, knowing of his death is a bit of satisfaction to the captain. However, things don't go as smoothly as planned as the dealer realizes that the body of a young woman is in the coffin...

As things become clear, Pilar and Gerry (Xian Lim), Charm's boyfriend, make the long trek towards Sorsogon where Charm's body presumably lies. Through their trek though the heart of the Philippines, more details are revealed about Charm's life and the impact she left on the people she left behind.

Oh, and did I forget to tell you this was a comedy? And somehow, seemingly against all odds, it works?

Two Funerals uses the backdrop of the Holy Week as a comparison to the events in the film. As Pilar and Gerry trek go through their road trip they are finding for redemption, perhaps for their own issues in life. As the world tried in vain to find salvation through the dude on the cross during Black Saturday, Pilar is finding for her own salvation or closure to the tragedy that befell her family.

Not much is revealed about Dodong, the other dead body involved in the swap; all we know is that he was a bad guy, an assassin and a rapist. But at the same time the film gives us the notion that forgiveness for him is not in our hands but with a higher Power. The smaller focus on him makes the story incomplete in a way, but then again, focusing on both parties might have made the film ridiculously long. It was then probably necessary to focus on the more interesting story.

Two Funerals is mainly a road movie; road movies typically correlate the physical journey the characters take to their own personal, emotional journeys. In this case the story does not dwell too deeply on the latter part; or arguably there is only so much to discuss under such circumstances. The story of this journey is then filled up with a number of sidetracks along the way. Although some are a mini-treatise on the concept of sin and the sinner, for the most part they can ultimately be removed from the film with little impact to the whole. But as it is, and considering that this is a comedy after all, the occasional funny yet relevant skit is just fine.

Let me say this now: Tessie Tomas should get some sort of award. As it is, it's a close match between herself and Irma Adlawan for best actress. Pilar's character mostly spends the movie troubled, yet composed. As the movie reaches its climax and Pilar finally reaches her goal, her emotional barriers come crashing down. Tessie Tomas does this transformation so well and so convincingly that the packed theater literally burst into applause. It's that good.

Visually, as one would expect from established directors, the work is solid and polished. The Director of Photography makes the best of the "road trip through the Philippines" scenario to show us fascinating landmarks along the road to Sorsogon.

All in all, I'd give the movie 8 coffins out of 10. I may not yet be able to say that this is the best film of its category, but I can definitely say, gauging from my own reactions and the audience's, that it is most probably the most fun.
Justify Full

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cinemalaya 2010: Sampaguita, Vox Populi

This Tuesday, I managed to see two movies from the new breed category. Now I'm of the opinion that overall the new breed films are better than the director's showcase films. Will that opinion change? Who knows...

Justify FullSampaguita
This film was the first film to be shown in the Nicanor Abelardo theater, and thus it was national anthem time. When the film began we were asked to sing the national anthem again. Now I didn't know what the hell was going on, as the film began to portray various national symbols in ironic black humor that is in itself Filipino.

Sampaguita is a film that tracks the lives of several street children, with the sampaguita flower being their common link. Some of the children pick sampaguita, and some sell them. In documentary style moments, an unseen interviewer asks them questions about their lives, their inner thoughts, and their dreams.

After the film, I found one movie goer (dunno who he is, was probably one of the directors or something of some other film) taking the perspective of the film as a documentary as a result of these moments. As such, he felt the film's scenes seemed manufactured. Now that would only hold if this was truly meant to be a documentary. I saw it as a sort of pseudo-cinema verite style thing, and I had no problems with the presentation.

To say anything more about the plot would ruin your enjoyment of it. Francis Pasion uses non-actors for the roles of the children. This is of course very precarious ground, as the acting must be natural and convincing to maket he movie work. Make a few inexperienced kids just say out their lines and the whole movie fails. Thankfully, that doesn't happen as for the most part, the children are superb.

Technically the film is sound. Most of the movie was taken during night or in relative darkness, but I guess digital film technology has indeed improved, as HD makes dark scenes less grainy than it used to. Neil Daza makes use of his expertise for some breathtaking shots, some even taking place in near complete darkness (the 'candles' scene in the beginning being a trademark example.) The soundtrack of the movie is simple yet amazingly appropriate. The main theme is a piano based variation of the National Anthem (National Historical Commission, you listening?) that floats in and out of key emotional scenes.

The issue of street children has been addressed time and time again. In one symbolic scene, a character covers a dead bird with sampaguita petals to make it smell better. Perhaps this could signify how society tries to ignore or hide the existence of these children. Later in the film, people give them things out of charity: food, money, possessions, and these are welcome gifts, sources of temporary happiness. But longer term happiness is much harder to achieve. Sooner or later, like the symbolic sampaguita covering that dead bird, the sampaguita smell will fade away. By the time the food or the money has run out, nothing remains.

Sampaguita is a film about life. It's a film about hopes and dreams. The film indeed tries end on an optimistic note, giving the kids one last time to relate their hopes and dreams for the future. But at the same time, the film ends with an ironic twist that links back to the beginning of the film, making all things come full circle.

A lot of people were touched by the end (unless they had colds or something, it was sniff-o-rama inside the theater) and I was touched too. It's reflective and poignant and leaves the answers for you to decide. I'd give it 8.5 wilted flowers over 10.

Vox Populi
The Philippine Political System, with all the nuances of Filipino culture woven into it, is such a ridiculously complicated thing that it would probably seem absurd to an outsider. Allegiances to family and friends, religious involvement in political avenues, 'utang ng loob,' the 'pakikisama' system - while it's not all exclusively Filipino, there's a definite Filipino flavor to politics in this land.

Nothing brings out the most out of this system than Election time. As all Filipinos know, the election period (and the Campaign season that precedes it) is a lavish carnival of gimmicks, campaign rhetoric, pretty words, and asking favors. Candidates' faces are strewn all over the city, with regular visits to barangays and other places to gain support.

Connie di Gracia (Irma Adlawan) is one of those candidates. Her late father was the mayor of the town of San Cristobal for a very long time, having benefited from the lack of elections since Martial Law. Since then, power has shifted to other people. Now, however, she is pitted against Resty Zarate, the incumbent mayor, for the position.

The movie unfolds during the last day of campaigning before the elections begin. Connie has a tentative lead over her rival, but suddenly one of the other candidates steps down - intending to switch his followers to Zarate. Connie's political adviser, Tony (Julio Diaz) and her brother Ricky (Bobby Andrews) then tell Connie that she must make a last ditch effort to solidify her win, even if it means pandering to religious groups (a dig at groups like El Shaddai or what have you) abusive employers, or creepy gambling lords. Connie is a woman of principle - at least in what we see of her. She doesn't believe in the pretty words or the rhetoric. She's practical in her platform and straight to the letter. This makes her efforts all the more harder. She tries to fulfill her promises to the best of her ability, but in her own words, she hasn't been elected yet and she already owes much to a ton of people.

The dialogue seems to tell us that Zarate is doing every dirty trick in the book to sabotage them, but we never really get to see what kind of a person Zarate really is, unless we take the dialogue at face value and ignore the lack of an alternate viewpoint. This is, after all, Connie's story.

I have few complaints regarding the technical aspects of the film; some of the shots are done in the handheld "shakycam" style which is quite jarring at times.

There's no doubt that Irma Adlawan steals the show; on the other hand, the show belonged to her from the start. The movie is about Connie, and like a proverbial Atlas she carries the weight of the movie from start to finish. Remarkably, it is not in the spoken dialogue that she shines - some of the lines are suited for theater, but unfortunately not for film - it is in the short silences, the times when Connie reflects on what she has done, and whether she has done the right thing or not where her acting chops show themselves in full force. She expresses so many emotions and inner thoughts without saying a single word, with each circumstance being different. Had a lesser actress done the same thing you would simply see a blank stare. But with Adlawan a thousand turbulent thoughts swirl with that look in her eyes.

I am left a bit ambivalent about the ending; although it is understandable. The film is not about what Connie plans to do after the election, nor is it about how justifiable or feasible Connie's platform is. Although things look optimistic in the end, we never really see who wins. It's about the nature of politics itself, the alliances that politicians form to gain support, even when ethical or moral lines seem to be crossed. The voice of the people is the voice of God, as the namesake of this movie describes. To get the popular vote, you have to sway people's hearts and minds - and there are many ways of doing so.

I give it 7.5 voters out of 10. Plus or minus maybe 0.5 for that damn catchy election jingle.

Cinemalaya 2010: Sigwa, Donor, Mayohan

Cinemalaya 2010 features films by independent film directors, and a new (?) section featuring established directors in the spotlight. I'm not going to go in depth here so I'll just give you a brief overview, and my thoughts.

DIRECTOR'S SHOWCASE FILMS

Sigwa

Joel Lamangan's entry centers on Dolly (Dawn Zulueta, Megan Young). She's returned to the Philippines after more than 30 years to know more about the daughter she left in the care of one of her friends. They were friends, however, in the most turbulent of circumstances: the first few years of Martial Law. including the infamous First Quarter Storm. Plus they were all political activists, which is kinda bad for you if you don't want to be detained/tortured/etc. In her quest to search for the truth for her daughter, she revisits the friends she left behind: Oliver (Tirso Cruz), who became allied with the government, Cita (Zsazsa Padilla), who remained a communist rebel, and Azon (Gina Alajar), who gave up the revolutionary lifestyle to take care of her daughter (and Dolly's as well.)

I'm not really a fan of Marxist philosphy, nor do I support student activism of such a radical level, because of my opinion that such systems are doomed to fail. Does the movie itself take a stance on this philosophy? I'm more inclined to say that the film at least says that people who tolerate social injustice are not so different than the people who are behind them. The film gives a few winks in our direction with regards to that.

The movie is professionally made, slick and polished, although with some weird script dialogue, e.g. "when did you do a 360 degree turn [with your ideas?]" (Uhhh... that will just take you back to the start) and firing on the ground ftw. Digital media has come far since the first Cinemalaya, and it's showing in spades here with a high definition picture and a clear and solid image. The production designer even made the effort of making props, sets and even softdrink bottles appropriate to the era.

The acting is decent, although you will see your share of "sampalan" scenes taken almost out of a telenovela, but that's Joel Lamangan for you. The young version of the casts delivers, adequately filling their respective roles.

My one problem with this film is that the last 20 or so minutes seem incredibly rushed. A major conflict between characters seems resolved minutes after it is established, and after that, the movie wraps itself up.

All in all, it's a nice film to watch, but is brought down by the ending. I'd give it 6.5 activists over 10.

Donor

The issue of abuses and planned changes in the system of Organ Donation in this country is such a large ethical clusterfuck that it would take me ten times as long if I wanted to write about it. (Too long didn't read version of my opinion: 0) Organ Donation is good in itself and an awesome effective treatment, but 1) the planned changes make the system even more open to exploitation, 2) our current system cannot feasibly prevent abuses as we suck at implementation 3) I think tightening restrictions to already existing limitations can help prevent abuses to the system as much as loosening those restrictions and "trying" to regulate them and 4) if the system is passed, we should make damn well sure that issues of informed consent and compensation are treated with as much respect to ethics as possible.)

*takes deep breath*

Mark Meily's entry focuses on Lizette (Meryll Soriano,) a seller of Pirated DVDs who lives with her live in partner Danny (Baron Geisler). Earning money is hard due to a lack of job opportunities and constant raids screwing over her business. One day she is given a remarkable opportunity: sell her kidney to a wealthy Jordainian businessman with kidney failure (as an aside he didn't look like he had CKD to me lol) for 100,000 pesos. At this time donation of organs by strangers/foreigners is illegal, but there is a way, as Emperor Palpatine would say, to "make it legal." That is, they get married, so that Lizette can legally give her kidney to her 'husband.'

At first she rejects the offer, but the time comes when she really needs the money. Plus it isn't helping any that Danny is a huge dick and periodically borrows or steals her money. So she decides to take the plunge. But soon, the repercussions of her actions make themselves clear as everything begins spiraling into a shocking finale.

In an impromptu Q and A after the movie with the director, myself and a couple other moviegoers, the director said that the movie was his way of saying "How much of a price can you put on life?" 100,000 for a kidney, 20,000 to kill an unwanted child (and they haggle too!) 9000 pesos to snuff out a life in an instant? But what do those prices mean? The value we put on our own lives is decided only by ourselves. Or perhaps at the same time, human life transcends value because life should not be sold or traded for any sort of monetary value. Director Meily noted the recent events regarding Organ Donation and noted the ethical issues present in the movie, creating the juxtaposition of death and self-destruction in the final scene.

In the movie, although Lizette technically does the legal thing (which is arguable, because during their exchange of vows they did not disclose certain ethical, legal or moral issues that would prevent them from getting married) she crosses all sorts of ethical lines by agreeing to do this. In fact, characters in this movie transgress the boundaries of what is legal or ethical for their own benefit: Lizette sells pirated DVDs, in itself unethical, but at the same time does it for her own survival; the doctor knows that there is something seriously screwy going on with this organ donation but does it anyway for his patient and his own pocket; and Danny illegally tries to obtain a gun for his own protection.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't cover everything. The topic of Informed Consent was only implied to have taken place sometime in the movie, but it is one of the most important aspects of the Organ Donation process.

Technically the movie is professional and polished, but one little nitpick I have was the overuse of the fade in - fade out transitions. I think these transitions have their place and the common fade in - fade out makes the movie a bit segmented for me, making the movie seem like a collection of various scenes, rather than making the whole thing seamless. The acting is spot on, Meryll Soriano and Baron Geisler showing their acting chops.

In the end, I'd say put this on your 'watch' list. I'd give it 8 kidneys over 10. Plus let me know what you think of the ending. I kinda liked it lol.

NEW BREED CATEGORY FILMS

Mayohan

Nino (Elijah Castillo, from Pisay the movie) is a 15-year old boy who comes to Infanta, Quezon to visit his grandmother. With a limp that came from a horrific accident that claimed both his parents, Nino starts the film a bit withdrawn, an outsider to this alien place. Soon though, he starts to acclimate himself to rural life. As it happens, May is festival time in this place, culminating into a dance festival (Pasayaw) at the end. Slowly, he begins to start a friendship with Lilibeth (Lovi Poe,) who wishes to break away from this life due to issues of her own.

First things first, when they said that this movie was in HD, they weren't kidding. This movie is gorgeous to look at. Shots saturated with light and color, effective use of lighting and maybe filters, offsetting that problem we always see with darkness or shadows and digital movies. Add that to the fact that the setting is scenic and pretty. Props to the production design, cinematography and post production people.

The movie is a story of youth, a relationship in transcience, yet still a friendship worth keeping. Both actors are capable in their respective roles, but the accents sometimes seem off. I have no major qualms about the story as everything presents itself in a deliberate pace. The little moments between these two characters fit the film well, and the chemistry between the two accentuates this.

This is a really sweet film which kinda touched the hopeless romantic in me. If this is any indication for the quality of the rest of the films in this year's competition, I think I'm going to be in for a treat. 8 bottles of lambanog over 10.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Downfall

Ever wonder where those "Angry Hitler" clips came from? If you're not in the know, it's from a 2004 German movie called "The Downfall," chronicling the last few days of Hitler and the Third Reich.

It's 1945, and the Red Army has surrounded Berlin. The Allies are closing in as well, and the German Army is close to total defeat. Inside the fuhrerbunker, Adolf Hitler enacts Operation Clausewitz, making Berlin a frontline city. Many, including civilians and military personnel, evacuate the city as it is laid to ruin. Hitler himself, however, opts to stay and make his last stand here. And wary of what happened to his ally Mussolini, he begins to consider suicide.

The movie was constructed from interviews and accounts of people inside the bunker and published accounts of Hitler's last days. Indeed, the film itself is viewed through the perspective of Hitler's last secretary, Traudl Junge, who appears before and after the film an interview segment. The movie also speculates on a number of unclear events: who killed the Goebbels children, when Hitler wrote his last will and testament, how Magda Goebbels was killed, and so on.

The acting by Bruno Ganz deserves note. His performance as the fuhrer himself, switching between gentlemanly and incandescent rage, is spellbinding. Yet portraying Hitler is a human rather than this vague icon of evil does not make him any less evil; his rants about racial purity and his indifference to the German people as they faced annihilation make it clear that despite his situation, this is still the same despicable man hated by many.

The film is appropriately filled with a sense of dread. In the chaos of the invasion, people either hide in fear or celebrate in parties. But the sound of the Russian artillery is always there, a reminder and a harbinger of the destruction that will befall them. This is, after all a story about defeat; about the end of a horrible regime that consumed the world in flames. It also offers us a little glimpse into who these people were.