Monday, December 17, 2012

The Wandering Swordsman Returns

It was my great pleasure to have viewed the limited screening of the live action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin, otherwise known as Samurai X, here in the Philippines. With a few other shows, these were the shows of my generation, a throng of kids growing up in the nineties beginning to appreciate anime for the first time.

For the uninitiated, Rurouni Kenshin is the story of Kenshin Himura, a wandering swordsman who was once the legendary assassin Battousai. Patterned after actual historical figures from the Meiji restoration, Kenshin has sworn never to kill again, a lost soul in a turbulent age. He then comes across Kaoru Kamiya, a kendo instructor who takes him in after he helps her.

The live action adaptation takes three of the first arcs of the manga and anime and combines them, taking aspects of one and combining it with another. Sometimes this leads to characters getting cut out of the story or combined with others. With the wrong director this often leads to disaster, but in this case the final result comes out quite well. The movie also makes extensive flashbacks to Kenshin's time as an assassin, including moments from the latter half of the manga which may surprise some.

While some of the main cast are explored a bit, some are left out (Sannosuke is a glaring example, characterization wise, becoming the comic foil) but in the end this is Kenshin's story. Throughout the movie he tries to come to terms with his past life and tries to accept the present and find somewhere to belong. It's understandable that some of the other characters do not get that much screen time, given the limited time of the movie format.

Takeru Sato is Kenshin, and he does the role quite well. He seems to have taken his lessons from acting in Tokusatsu (he is probably well remembered in Japan as the lead in Kamen Rider Den-O) and does a great number of stunts, running around and moving with the speed and power of Kenshin's Hiten Mitsurugi style. The rest of the cast is capable and does their job well; Teruyuki Kagawa does a great job hamming it up as Kanryu, Emi Takei portrays a gentler, more Yamato Nadeshiko Kaoru, and Yu Aoi is just... Yu Aoi.

The action work is fantastic and fast paced, if a little spaced far apart from each other. There's lots of wire work in play and is far better than most other action oriented anime adaptations in recent memory.

All in all, this was a blast to watch and the nostalgia factor shows itself in a major way all throughout the movie. Highly enjoyable and highly recommended.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Futurefilm Retrospective: Immortel (Ad Vitam)




Yet another French produced film for our sci-fi retrospective: Immortel (Immortal), by Enki Bilal.

Immortel was an interesting film for its time: along with Casshern and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, it was filmed with a digital backlot, meaning that all of the sets were in CGI. It worked really well with Casshern and it brought a nostalgic yet slightly retro-futuristic vibe in Sky Captain. Here... sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The graphics were mostly done by Quantic Dream studios, who would later make the video game Heavy Rain. Although the CGI was fluid, this is 2004 CGI we are talking about, so some aspects look dated.

The most striking difference in visuals was from one thing this movie did that the other two movies tended to shy away from: the usage of CGI characters. In this film, most of the supporting cast is either pure CGI or a mix of CGI faces and real bodies. It's jarring and hits the uncanny valley a bit too much for my taste.

As for the plot, it's based on Bilal's comic of the same name, and it's a bit of a mess. It's 2095, and humanity has embraced improving himself through biotechnology and eugenics. Most people have replaced their organs with biotech replicas. For some reason, a large pyramid hangs over New York City. Within the pyramid, Egyptian gods (extraterrestrials?) condemn one of their own, Horus, to mortality. For some reason. Also for some reason, a man named Nikopol was arrested for some reason. And, for some reason, a lady with blue hair and white skin appears out of nowhere.

Note that I'm using the words 'for some reason' a lot. And that has a reason, which is one of the film's greatest weaknesses: none of this ever gets explained, ever. The plot, without any backstory at all, is a jumbled mess.

Horus wants to procreate and uses Nikopol as a host body, since he is free of biotech manipulation. This leads to some weird squicky scenes and technical rape (or surprise sex!) Also the lady with blue hair and white skin falls in love with Nikopol, despite the fact that she got raped by him, or Horus in his body.

For some reason. By this point I didn't care about the plot anymore. Other than what I revealed above, nothing else gets explained. The film seems to assume you already know.

So I was left to appreciate the movie with the visuals, which despite the datedness, is pretty decent. The music was partly done by Icelandic band Sigur Ros, but blink and you'd miss their contributions to the film. The acting was okay, but again the disparity between CGI images and real actors is quite jarring.

All in all the movie is deeply flawed. I really wouldn't recommend it; see the comic/graphic novels instead.

Cinemalaya Backlogs: Tribu (2007)


I have a lot of pending or unedited reviews for Cinemalaya films from the past six or so years, especially the 2008 festival. Here's one of the reviews I decided to finish up.

I managed to watch Tribu during its gala night premiere. Since then it has gained a lot of positive attention here and abroad. Now, having watched the movie again, I found a few new things about it that I wasn't able to catch on first glimpse. It still remains a great film after all these years.

Tribu is shot almost like a documentary, with its camera work and its use of non actors in many of the title roles. Jim Libiran grew up in Tondo and it shows, with lots of dynamic shots moving around the story from one scene to another. His actors sometimes go on set with their own weapons; other times they are shot or arrested in real life.

His movie is a violent slice of life, and at the same time it shows a Tondo that is dichotomous: during the day, the adults rule with their adult concerns, rumors and gossip. During the night, the street gangs prowl the streets like packs of wolves. The two sides seldom meet, and when questioned by their parents or by people in authority, the youth hide behind supposed innocence. During the day they might be your average kid next door; but as night comes you may see them knifing some guy to death.

This clash of cultures, the formation of the culture of gangs, stems from a lot of other things. The film tries to hint at this during the open dialogue. It is a deviant society borne from poverty, from ennui, from the youthful notions of invincibility and wanting to belong. It also comes from a disparity between generations, with neither side wanting (or willing) to understand the other, and with neither side as guilty or innocent as the other. This society comes across as violent, even barbaric. And yet, during a scene near the climax, we see that this society in the shadows has formed a culture of its own. The rap music flows like poetry throughout the film, and reaches its peak before the climax of the film.

We see the movie through the eyes of a child, who drifts in between the warring factions. He is an observer, both of the youth corrupted by crime and the adults who are no better. In the end, everyone looks out for themselves, and the kid is no exception.

I heard that because of their work with the film the actual gang members have formed a peace with each other. That was five years ago; hopefully it will last. And Libiran himself has continued his love letter for his home town: his succeeding film, Happyland, is also set in Tondo, albeit with a different story to tell.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Futurefilm Retrospective: Renaissance

The moment I saw the previews for this film I had to get a copy of this. Now with a copy in hand, here are my impressions of Christian Volckman's animated CGI film, Renaissance.

It's the year 2054 and Paris is an amalgamation of old technologies and new. Avalon is a huge  megacorporation that advertises longevity treatments (although their actual process is not shown on film.) The film begins as one of Avalon's researchers, Ilona Tasuiev, is kidnapped by unknown individuals. Karas, a hardboiled policeman, is ordered to take on the case. As he gets deeper and deeper into the case, he finds that the kidnapping is far more complicated than it seems.

Renaissance is cyberpunk back at its roots: while set in the 'near' future, it takes lots of influences from the Film Noir genre. There's the female lead (Ilona's older sister,) the gloomy and oppressive environment, and the 'protagonist against the world' vibe that leads into the film's second half.

The plot is standard noir, and offers nothing new. It unfortunately does not delve much into the philosophical consequences stemming from the actions of some of the characters in the film. There is so much story potential that can be taken from the central themes of the movie: life and death. I'd also have wanted a little more character development between the two leads, but it ends up a little shallow.

The visuals makes up for that in spades. Done in motion-captured CGI, then treated to a kind of cel shaded black and white effect, it's a visual treat. It's worth seeing the movie just for the visuals. Contrasts of light and shadow really enhance the overall noir feel of the movie. It's a futuristic Paris bathed in shadow during night, and in clear white during the day.

The soundtrack can get a little too bombastic at times, but it's okay overall. Having watched the English version of the movie, the performances are decent enough. You really get into Karas (Daniel Craig) and sympathize for his character.

Renaissance is a one in a kind visual feast. While the plot may largely be uninspired, it's still worth a watch.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cinemalaya Backlogs: Ligo na U, Lapit na Me (2011)


This was a film I wanted to watch last year but didn't (every place was sold out.) But thanks to the magic of local distribution via Regal films, I was able to watch this.

In the time between last year's festival and the time when I watched this film, I managed to read the original novel by Eros Atalia. It's a fun read, with the basic storyline plus lots of internal monologue about... anything in particular. The Filipino was conversational and not too formal like other novels I've read, making it easy for anyone to read. It reminded me a bit of Bob Ong's books, to be honest. The film eschews much of the Bob Ong-esque dialogue and the cursing and pares the movie down to a tighter, more focused story.

And the story is: Karl Vladimir Lennon Villalobos, a.k.a. Intoy (Edgar Allan Guzman), is a college student. He's all about facades, making himself out to be a tough guy. He meets Jen (Mercedes Cabral) who is the prettiest girl on campus. She approaches him and offers him to be friends with benefits. Yup, this is just like that film Friends With Benefits... no, just kidding. In the end, Intoy is left to review his view on life and being 'tigasin.'

The story focuses on Intoy, but the character of Jen is also a draw. Intoy, despite his macho demeanor, is just a kid learning to walk in the dark as he goes through life. Jen is an enigma. Her motivations for seeking out Intoy are never really explained, and her erratic, even random actions leave us as confused as Intoy is. But the nice thing about that is, it's all really compelling.

I'm going to spoil the movie a bit here so stop reading if you don't want to get spoiled. The normal review continues after this paragraph. Another theme that the novel touches upon, especially during the second half, is moving on. It's touched upon in the film but not as heavily as it was in the novel. As anyone who has experienced a broken heart can tell you, the most devastating breakups are from relationships without closure, or relationships that weren't as concrete as both parties would like. So this is for all the "forever alone" people out there - sometimes you just have to live one day at a time.

The casting is spot on, and both leads portray their characters naturally. Technically the movie is sound, but the soundtrack comes off as largely uninspired, save for a few great songs at the end. At times the soundtrack made the movie feel like a cheap comedy show on TV, and that's not a good thing.

It's a worthy film in the 2011 Cinemalaya lineup, but I'd say it falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. But all in all, it's a good adaptation that manages to avoid the pitfalls of straying too much from a strong plot.

Extra notes: Viewers may notice a connection to this novel/film and Eros Atalia's other novel, Intoy Syokoy ng Kalye Marino (incidentally adapted in the 2012 edition of Cinemalaya.) In fact, Ligo Na U... kind of serves as a spiritual sequel to that one. Also notable is the release of the sequel to the novel, entitled It's Not That Complicated: Bakit Hindi Pa Sasakupin Ng Mga Alien Ang Daigdig Sa 2012. I'll be watching out for a film adaptation of that one too. Maybe in 2013?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Futurefilm Retrospective: the Oshii Ghost in the Shell Films



In this edition of the Futurefilm Retrospective I'll be talking about Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell films, Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.

1996 saw the release of Ghost in the Shell, a very influential anime film based on the manga by Shirow Masamune. The first time I saw it I was entranced by the traditional Japanese chant that came along with the creation of a cyborg (it turns out that the song is a wedding chant!) the philosophy and the futuristic setting. Not long after I managed to get a copy of the original manga and compared the two. Both works are philosophical and consider the same concepts, but as always the anime trims down most of the subplots to focus the story.

There are a lot of biblical references in the narrative, most notably the passage that our protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, utters in the halfway point of the film, continued in the last part of the film. I think it's from Corinthians, also a source of other cultural references in the film.

Culture is another thing that is discussed in both films, although subtly. Despite (or perhaps because?) of the major technological advances in human manipulation, cultures have begun to meld together without being wiped out. The setting of the series, Newport City, is not confirmed to be in Japan at all; in fact most of the signage and rituals point to a Chinese origin, despite the fact that the main characters are working for the Japanese government.

Masamune is a weapons otaku and it shows in the manga - each weapon is given a lovingly detailed description, with notes on ammo capacity, rate of fire, penetrating power and so on. In the films, weapon sounds and recoil are researched thoroughly, although the explanations are not as prominent. One notable omission in the anime is the inclusion of the sentient battle tanks known as Fuchikoma. Their story is expanded in the anime series where they gain a collective consciousness and are retired due to that fact.

The films continue with Innocence, released in 2004 at the Cannes Film Festival. Although a sequel to the film, it is not based on either of the manga sequels, Human-Error Processor or Man Machine Interface. Instead, it is loosely based on a chapter from the first manga series. This film explores the concepts of identity and having a soul even further than the first one. It's a bit hard to discuss it without spoiling anything so I'll just leave it at that.

In both films the dog is a major symbolic reference. In some mythologies they are regarded as guards over the next plane of existence. In particular, the Basset Hound that we see in his other films are here (even more so in Innocence) as an anchor to reality. A major motif in the second film is the doll and its symbolic comparison to the cyborgs and androids that we see in the film.

The original film was reworked and released as Ghost in the Shell 2.0. It uses advanced CGI sequences and cleans up most of the shots in the movie. There are some major changes that have been a point of controversy (the Puppet Master's voice has been changed from an effectively jarring male to a female) making it a work that stands on its own. Your mileage may vary on which version you think is better.

Ghost in the Shell is a must see work that has to be seen at all levels. I also recommend the anime series, Stand Alone Complex, which expands most of the cyberpunk and sci fi themes from the manga to a remarkable work on its own.

Futurefilm Retrospective: Avalon


Mamoru Oshii's films have always challenged our perceptions of the world around us, and his 2001 joint production with Poland, Avalon, is no exception. Set in a near future world where everyone plays a mysterious role-playing game called Avalon (patterned after Wizardry) the story focuses on Ash, a player with top level skills. She mostly escapes into the world of Avalon, earning money from the game. Her life 'outside' the game is plain and uneventful, with the drab setting and the sepia tones of the visuals accentuating this fact.

However, certain events lead to her knowledge of a secret level in Avalon - a level that many have tried to reach and failed. And there is the presence of the 'unreturned,' players who were unable to log off from the game and have remained catatonic outside of the game. She then sets off to reach this goal and perhaps... finish the game.

Avalon deals with our perceptions of reality itself. Oftentimes we are led to believe that none of the worlds featured in the film are real. But the argument that Avalon may trying to say is that reality is whatever we choose it to be, and in a way, that is all that matters.

Many of Oshii's motifs from his previous films pop up here. Quite evident is his use of dogs, primarily Basset Hounds, as a measure of one's grip on reality (astute viewers of his more popular Ghost in the Shell movies, which we will review later, will be able to see them.) The virtual game concept, a battle simulation where players gun down artificial enemies and each other, is featured in his latest film, Assault Girls (it may even be the same game; unfortunately it lacks much of the introspection of this film.)

Of note is the setting of the movie. Oshii picked the Eastern European look of Poland for this film as it fit his vision for the movie. Thus, to Japanese audiences this would have seemed even more alien. While most of the movie is in sepia, giving it yet another layer of 'disreality' from the viewer, the last third turns it all around, making the viewer contemplate the relative reality of the characters involved. This is complimented by a soundtrack by longtime Oshii collaborator, Kenji Kawai.

Comparing contemporary MMORPGs and the game of Avalon, there are certain things that caught my attention. While the immersion is not as deep as in this movie, people have been known to get hopelessly addicted to their games (video game addiction has been proposed as an inclusion in the handbook of psychiatric disorders, the DSM V.) Some may even use the games as their source of income.

Avalon will haunt you with questions long after it ends. It's the kind of movie that invites discussion and doesn't coddle the viewer with simple answers. I recommend it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Futurefilm Retrospective - AKIRA




Here's a no-brainer for this retrospective: a rewatching of Katsuhiro Otomo's masterpiece AKIRA. For this one, I'm going to talk a bit about the seminal anime that any decent anime fan must know, and the epic manga it is based upon.

AKIRA is the story of Kaneda, an adolescent biker who leads a gang of 'like minded individuals', and Tetsuo, his close friend and fellow biker gang member. The year is 2019 (2031 in the manga,) decades after a cataclysmic explosion destroys much of old Tokyo. Neo Tokyo, built over the corpse of the old, is a futuristic city that borrows lots of elements from classic cyberpunk: a degenerating society run by an inept bureaucracy, run down and populated by dissatisfied residents, disillusioned youth, and various other malcontents.

Tetsuo then gets into an accident and gets involved with a secret government program that aims to control latent psychic powers that are present in all people. Tetsuo's powers begin to manifest themselves in an accelerated manner; meanwhile Kaneda, aided by a resistance fighter named Kei pries into the secrets behind the government program and the mysterious Akira.

The anime film is based on the first half of the manga, which at more than 2000 pages is an epic read in itself. While they have similar themes and characters, the two works diverge wildly in terms of plot: the manga deals with foreign intervention, has more characters and little subplots, and ends in a slightly different way. The anime removes a lot of the supporting cast and recasts some in other roles.

For the 1980's the animation is unusually well animated. Even now some of the scenes in this film blow me away. The music is excellent, mostly with themes of traditional Japanese music.

The manga is an evolution on previous stories on psychics made by Otomo, most notably Domu, where a old man in an apartment complex and a young girl engage in psychic combat. Akira ups the scale of the destruction to eleven, with cities destroyed in the blink of an eye.

Both the film and the manga tackle the complex issues of self and the evolution of man. In a way it's a treatise on man vs. technology. When man is given the means to improve himself in ways that he cannot handle, he will not grow, he will only become something like an amoeba: something that exists to grow and consume. This is made more evident in the film where a cult leader espouses the dangers of civilization on the universe itself.


So does the the film and manga have a point? Only the future will tell.

Futurefilm Retrospective - Technotise: Edit and I



The next series of reviews on the blog will be about films about the future, mostly cyberpunk, post cyberpunk and general sci-fi works, because I believe the genre hasn't been explored in depth that much in most other blogs.

We begin with a Serbian film (no, not that Serbian film. Seriously, don't watch it) from 2009 called Technotise: Edit and I. It's based on a graphic novel by Aleksa Gajic and Darko Grkinic. It's about an art student named Edit, who lives in the futuristic Belgrade of 2074. The city itself sports a mix of traditional buildings from that region in Europe and futuristic buildings and architecture.

Edit takes care of a genius who has discovered an 'equation of everything,' that has rendered the genius silent. After seeing a visualization of the equation itself, she notices that something strange has happened to her body: thanks to a series of fortuitous events another being is growing inside her...

The society depicted in Technotise is not unlike the one we see today: the young adults of society are wandering aimlessly, looking for their place in life and engaging in hedonistic behavior and thrill seeking. The government, unlike the crumbling bureaucratic beast that we see in classic cyberpunk, is mostly relegated to the side, an invisible force that still manages to make society prod along. People still do drugs, have casual sex here and there (the introduction of artificial pleasure bots called 'plastics' helps) and do crazy stuff.

Taking influence from anime, Technotise is fully animated using both 2D and 3D animation.While not as fluid as the animation you see from Hollywood productions, the film is still pretty impressive. The fact that we see this quality of animation from the unlikeliest of sources (come on, how many Serbian animated films can you name?) makes me smile inside.

The story itself draws us slowly into the world of Technotise for the first half hour before getting down to business. There are a few weird scenes that I could have done without (there's a love scene in the middle that came out of nowhere) but luckily things don't stray too far. The plot for me was resolved too hastily in some parts, and I would have wanted to see more character development between Edit and her new 'friend.'

This is a unique addition to sci-fi animation, and one that I recommend. If you can find a copy, go and check it out.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Thoughts on Cinemalaya

I like movies.

I've never been enrolled in any sort of formal school or institution teaching film. My teacher has always been the movies I've watched. I've enjoyed some, I've hated some, and I've ignored a lot more. I've seen them in all shapes and sizes, tackling all kinds of subject matter (and in some cases, nothing at all.) So all these words come from an average moviegoer who likes to watch movies - a member of the moviegoing masses.

Recent events have led me to think about true freedom in filmmaking. I am left to ask about what it means for filmmaking to be a collaborative process, and how much power the producers and the director of the film (if you believe in auteur theory) have over the final product. But as a member of the audience, the bottom line for me is, I want to see the finished film. What is art without an audience, even if created to speak for itself?

Also, I'm happy that there are other fresh perspectives being offered in this year's festival. I've always thought that a wide variety of viewpoints about Philippine life is one of the strengths of any film festival.

I stumble across things like this sometimes. While as valid a piece of film criticism as any, I paused at the last few words:

Sa aking palagay, walang tunay na independent na pananaw ito sa isang iniluwal ng “indie cinema.”  Napapanahon na rin sigurong ibuyanyang kung tunay nga bang independent ang namamayagpag na indie cinema sa kasalukuyan.
(In my view, there is no true independent perspective for [this film] to something from "indie cinema." It may be time to perhaps show if contemporary indie cinema is truly independent. -paraphrased)
 hmm...

I want to believe that independent cinema means that anyone can make a film, regardless of who they are. I want to believe that it means you can make a film about whatever you want. And I want to believe that it means it can easily reach people who want to watch films. People like me. Independent cinema is freedom, and that in my opinion is the only thing that can be attached to it. There are no labels you can attach as to its theme or what it should or should not depict. That's pretentious.

But like freedom in general, no one is truly free. But I'd like to think that art should be free. Fuck me, right?

Any kind of "superiority" gleaned by a film just because it tackles subjects from a particular societal viewpoint is imaginary. As long as a film can convey its basic themes and emotions, it's valid. Everyone can love, cry, grieve, or hate. Hell, we loved ET and WALL-E, and those things weren't even human.

Besides, this is Cinemalaya, not "Shet Ang Hirap Hirap Ko The Film Festival."

I made this in five minutes using paint. Don't judge me. FUCK YOU GUYS.

In closing, I'd like to end with this piece by Patricia Evangelista. I may not agree with all of it, but her point is, films are films. In the end, regardless of how they are made, we can choose to enjoy them or not. Sometimes I may want to think about my place in life, or my status as a member of society. Or sometimes I just want to watch a movie about an insane dude fapping to Yua Aida on a deserted island.

I'd fap to Yua Aida too, to be perfectly honest.

I'm still going to be watching films after I post this, until I can't. Bite me.

See you guys next year!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Hands on a Hard Body


no, it's not porn.

I recently watched this very fascinating documentary about a contest where 24 people compete to win a truck. Of course, this isn't as simple as you think. The rules are: they have to have at least one hand on the truck, never lean on it, never sleep, wear gloves at all times, and have regular breaks and mandatory drug tests.

As the film goes on, the film then becomes a slice of the American Dream. For every Texan, one person says, the truck is kinda rooted in their blood or something. It's like a horse to the figurative cowboy. We then see the motivations behind some of the contestants and why they want that ultimate prize.

As the hours tick on and sleep deprivation sets in, a lot of people are disoriented, behave strangely, or convulse in uncontrollable laughter. But each one of the contestants wants that truck. Whether it's fueled by materialism or something else, we are left to decide for ourselves.

The film looks like an old home video (it was shot in Hi-8 and converted to 16mm) but it's the people and the story that matters. By the last third, you don't really care about the video quality anymore. The story itself pulls you in deep.

Robert Altman was reportedly making a movie version of this, and a broadway version (!) has already been shown. One can only wonder how that turned out.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

The (Live) Power of Rock and Roll

Beck was a great manga/anime series, so much so that I decided to write about it. When I heard that they were going to reimagine the series as a live action film, I was quite the excited moviegoer. Was it as good as advertised? Yes, actually.

For those not in the know, Beck is the story of a normal boy, Yukio "Koyuki" Tanaka, who by chance gets involved in a rock band, discovering himself and life and love in the process. Add in a legendary guitar, murderous music producers and all kinds of ridiculous but entertaining elements and you have this anime.

The movie adaptation loses a lot of elements from both the anime and manga, and that's not really surprising given the movie's limited running time. They do keep a lot of the basic stuff, such as the whole Lucille thing, the days Koyuki spends in school (although there is no Beatles awesomeness) and the whole crazy rock festival at the end. There is one element I'd like to discuss about the movie, however.

In the manga, Yukio is said to have an amazing singing voice. The anime depicts this by using an actual rock singer sing the songs in Beck in sometimes ridiculous Engrish. The movie however takes this to a different extreme: it does not feature Yukio singing AT ALL. Instead we see reaction shots of people mesmerized by his mindblowing singing. I'm not gonna lie, I don't like that decision one bit. I guess it's cheaper than recording a song and hiring a decent guy to sing a song.

Ray and Maho are portrayed by Hiro Mizushima and Shiori Kutsuna respectively; both are surprisingly fluent English speakers, but there's a bit of a problem. While Mizushima speaks mostly unaccented English (he learned the language as a child in an international school in Europe) Shiori Kutsuna grew up in Australia and has an obvious Aussie accent. To non-English speakers this is fine, but to someone like me... (._.)

It's an OK movie, but it's nothing I'd really recommend unless you are a fan of the series. In fact, see the anime and the manga (which has recently finished!) instead.



Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cinemalaya 2012: Shorts A and B, Bwakaw, Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay, Kamera Obskura

Last Day! Not counting Sunday, of course. I guess that's a thing right now.


WE GOT SHORT SHORTS SHORT REVIEWS OF SHORT FILMS AND SHIT


As He Sleeps

Sue Prado takes care of her husband, bedridden due to a stroke. My fellow med students, please tell me if the love scene in this film is medically possible. Subdued and bereft of words, yet enough visual storytelling panache to get the message across. 4/5


Balintuna (Irony)

It took me a while to figure out what really was ironic about these kids. Loved the slow mo thing going on with some sequences. 3.5/5


Bohe (sons of the waves)

A look at our brothers the Badjaos, sea nomads who live on houses on stilts. I've been to one of these communities before and it is interesting as hell to me. The plot doesn't really go anywhere, however. More of a slice of life thingy. 3/5


Pasahero (Passenger)

It was interesting, then a bit annoying, but it suddenly turns out cute at the end. Short but funny story about a lady on a jeepney. 4/5


Victor

A guy gets crucified as part of the Holy Week celebrations in Pampanga. I don't think this guy's motivations were fleshed out as much as I wanted it to be. Those wounds look painful, though. 2.5/5


Ang Paghihintay sa Bulong (Waiting to Whisper)

Despite some funny parts, I didn't really buy most of the humor and parts of it were a bit too vulgar to me. Meh. 2/5


Manenaya (Waiting)

Black and white film. Great composition in some shots. Contrast this to Victor; this lady's motivations are pure love. 3/5


Ruweda (Wheel)

Great production value, totally digging the non-linear narrative, slick and creative. There are winners and losers in life, and this just gives us a few examples. This one should be the film called "irony," IMO. 4.5/5


Sarong Aldaw (One Day)

This film was mostly a family affair. Very simple story. Some nice poetry set to lush visuals. Nice ending text. 3/5


Ulian (Senility)

Featuring Tausug dialog, a short look into a lady and her granddaughter and the effects of a mind no longer in its prime. 3/5


Cinema One Originals


Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay

What the Cynic in Me Expected: not gonna lie, I expected this to be awesome.
What actually happened: A funny, touching and very well done picture about the fickle nature of showbiz and one of its unsung heroes.


It was reported that during this year's festival, during the screening of Babae sa Breakwater on opening night, when Lilia Cuntapay's scene came on, the audience went nuts and cheered like crazy. Some even said it was a standing ovation. Similar reactions were made during her scenes in REquieme! What is with this outpouring of love and support? I say it's mainly due to the recognition she gained this film.

In the style of a mockumentary, Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay is a portrait of a woman who has worked selflessly for the film industry for around thirty years. Starting out as the lady who always portrayed witches and ghosts, most memorably with Kris Aquino in Shake Rattle and Roll III, Lilia Cuntapay is the quintessential 'old lady' extra. In the film's 'real life' she lives in a poor community, occasionally (and enthusiastically) answering the call of whatever interview, shooting of miscellaneous thing the industry has to offer. She is then nominated for a (fictional) award for best supporting actress.

Cuntapay herself is lovable, witty and affable. The walls of her house are adorned with movie posters of the films she's been in - sometimes replaced by drawings made by Lilia herself. Her enthusiasm for the job and dedication to the roles she plays - no matter how small -rubs off on the viewer. Her performance lights up the scenes she's in, making scenes far funnier than they would have been with a lesser actress.

But at the core of the film is a need, almost desperated at times, to be recognized. "I want you to know me," you can almost hear her say. After years of sulking in the shadows like many of the ghouls and ghosts she portrays, she is given an opportunity to shine in the limelight. These hopes and dreams are reflected in the 'podium' segments were she practices her acceptance speech. But nothing quite reflects this desire more than the last line of the film.

If this film's aim was to get her more recognized in cinema, I'd say it seems to have worked, at least a bit. During the Cinema One Originals Awards, Cuntapay did win an acting award - her first - as Best Actress.

Metaphor style rating: holding a party for that manong or manang who has served the hacienda for many years.


Director's Showcase


Bwakaw

What the Cynic in Me Expected: I expected to cry, to be perfectly honest.
What actually Happened: I did (but they were MANLY tears) but I laughed quite a lot as well. One of Eddie Garcia's best performances.

Eddie Garcia is Rene, a grumpy old gay man who has more or less given up on life. Life has taken a toll on him, and he has more or less accepted his fate. His house is in a state of disrepair, and his room is filled with boxes filled with his possessions, segregated by who will receive them as stated in his will. Periodically he updates this will via his local parish priest. His only companion in life is his dog, Bwakaw, who faithfully waits for him outside the house everyday. Soon, however, he begins to face death even more squarely in the eye, and things begin to change.

While looking at the above summary may seem like the film is depressing, the end product is actually quite funny and touching. Eddie Garcia delivers the performance of his career as Rene. Although irascible, you never really hate his character. He delivers his one liners like he does during shootouts in one of his manly action films. But this is a completely different dimension to the actor, and a performance you shouldn't miss.

Princess, the dog who plays Bwakaw, is also endearing. In every scene you see this palpable chemistry between her and Garcia's character. It's a chemistry that you don't even see in human actors. More than anything else, there's a fierce aura of loyalty and love that exudes from this dog. If you could give awards to animals for best actress, I'd give it to this fella.

People deal with death in different ways. Some avoid it, some confront it, some let it pass by like the wind. Bwakaw tackles how people deal with death, as sudden and unexpected as it may be. And how one deals with death reflects how one deals with life - that one should seize every day like it was their last, while living everyday for the promise of tomorrow.

It's the best entry in the Director's Showcase this year, and based on attendance by the public, I'm inclined to think I'm not the only one who thinks so. A must watch.

Metaphor style rating: like your loyal family dog who brings you lots of funny moments, lots of sad moments, and lots of life moments that change you.


Kamera Obskura (or, Money and Politics in the face of Artistic Integrity. There, I said it.)

What the Cynic in Me Expected: like the Artist, but more pretentious.
What actually Happened: an interesting take on film in general. Behind the political references, perhaps something else...?


As the festival winds down, I've decided to save this review for last. Why? Because I think it expresses various things about what is happening to this festival and the film industry right now.

I'm not going to go over the plot in detail, but long story short, a long lost short film was found somewhere by the national film archives. We then see the film itself, and we hear a couple of guys talking about it, with nothing more in their conversation than empty superlatives. While I think in the context of the film, the film is underrated, but it does have interesting layers of meaning underneath.

So the film itself is so so. Not one of Red's best films. The soundtrack was old timey for sure, and for some reason a lot of people hated it. The fake black and white silent film thing mostly works, with all the random artifacts popping out of nowhere. The editors clearly liked those iris wipes, but there was one unnatural fade to black that betrayed the film's modern origins.

I recommend a watch. This film will be polarizing and will gain measures of both praise and scorn. But discussions and reflections on the film are what the industry needs right now (at least from my humble outsider's view.) If it leads to a new way of thinking, or a chance for honest reform, it has done its job.

Note: don't leave immediately as the credits run out. You will miss a significant part of the film if you do.

Now about the message of the film:

Superficially, the film could be about how the ones working for Big Government and the supposed revolutionary working class are the same kind of animal, both wooed by money. But I interpreted the film a different way. I may be totally off base, and this film may not have anything to do with what I am going to say, but who knows? Art can be interpreted in different ways. Although I'm going to sound pretty pretentious saying it.


So SPOLERS BELOW ---------------------------------------






Pen Medina, the man with the camera, is the representation of the Filmmaker-as-collective. For long he is trapped in a dark room with no way to express himself, just as independent filmmakers had no way of expressing themselves through film (not necessarily by technical means, but in terms of getting an audience, thus the symbolism of the darkened room.)

For once he gets a glimpse of the outside world and is led to the camera store. He sees the camera (that ironically led him to prison in the first place) and begins to use it. The camera itself is a tool that exposes the truth; politically it can be used to expose the darker side of our society, much in the way that the camera absorbed the burglars and the corrupt politicians in the film. Thus the film is telling us that to be a filmmaker, one's obligations include the obligation to present the truth in society, sometimes in the form of social commentary.

The camera binds itself to the Filmmaker; one cannot exist without the other at this point. The Filmmaker is thus bound to his obligation to present the truth, whether he likes it or not.

Led to the eponymous Building, he is exposed to the politicians at the top, perhaps symbolism to big-name mainstream cinema. Although they have noble sounding ideals, and despite some of their ranks possessing integrity, their ultimate goal is corrupted by money. They try to co opt him and want to use his power of Filmmaking to their own means. Disillusioned by this inability to express the truth his own way (a metaphor for the inability to be creatively independent) he leaves.

He then joins the ranks of some other people who work with the working class, perhaps people similar to him. Under the guise of working for the laborers, or the people behind the scenes, it can be a reference to a separate independent collective from the studio bigwigs and mainstream people of today. Under the promise of using his power of Filmmaking for good, the Filmmaker seems swayed, but is still confused.

Again, we see these people receive money from the bigwigs. Money signifies everything, it makes the whole world go round. They are no different from the politicians we see earlier.

Irene Gabriel, the mysterious girl we see, can be a symbol for the muse of creativity. She advises the Filmmaker that to be truly able to use the power of Film, he must go it alone. And he does. He leaves the place, leaving the people to fight for themselves and decides to go back to his exile. He takes his camera with him, and realizes he is no longer bound by it. The camera's destiny was to be free of any kind of control, as Film is truly free if the artist is similarly unbound.

Upon returning to his exile, however, is a warning: his exile only signifies self indulgence and giving into hubris. While freedom in and of itself is liberating, it can also be seeds towards arrogance and self importance.




SPOILERS END -------------------------------


Ta-dah! There. What I wrote is either complete bullshit or a valid alternate interpretation of the film. Your mileage may vary.

Metaphor style rating: the whole film is a metaphor. You can't get any more meta than that.


Thus ends my week long cinematic journey through promising talents in the world of Philippine Cinema. Next, my closing thoughts on the festival and random shit on our industry in general.

Cinemalaya 2012: Qiyamah, The Animals

During the penultimate day in the festival, a few surprises.

Cinemalaya ANI


Qiyamah (The Reckoning)


What the Cynic in Me Expected: sorry, I went into this one blind.
What actually happened: A short but interesting slice of life and culture among our brothers in the south. Might I say the last slice of life, since it takes place at the end of the world.

In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful:

I swear by the Day of Resurrection
And I swear by the reproaching soul [to the certainty of resurrection].
Does man think that We will not assemble his bones?
Yes. [We are] Able [even] to proportion his fingertips.
But man desires to continue in sin.
He asks, "When is the Day of Resurrection?"
So when vision is dazzled
And the moon darkens
And the sun and the moon are joined,
Man will say on that Day, "Where is the [place of] escape?"
No! There is no refuge.
To your Lord, that Day, is the [place of] permanence.
Man will be informed that Day of what he sent ahead and kept back.
Rather, man, against himself, will be a witness,
Even if he presents his excuses.

Translation of Surah Al-Qiyamah (The Resurrection), Chapter 75:1-15, Holy Qur'an

I had heard about this film only shortly before I would watch it. It goes something like this. In a small rural community the sun suddenly rises in the west, which is a sign that Judgement Day is near. We then follow the lives of the people in the community, especially a family of three, as the hour nears.

Each member of the family has their own demons and regrets in life. The father was a former rebel and/or killer. The mother eloped with this guy, bringing pain to her parents. As for the kid, he is our untainted window into this world of last days.

There are a lot of films and stories about people dealing with the end, many featuring dramatic holding of hands and Michael Bay theatrics with explosions in the background. Here, the feeling is very subdued. The people, with their faith (or maybe due to something else), seem to have accepted the inevitable, like there's going to be a sale on Tuesday. Some just go on with their daily lives. But for many, past sins are reflected upon. "Did I do right?" "Will the deeds I've done so far get me to heaven or hell?" and so on. Aside from the family at the center of this film, other members of the community have their own issues to deal with.

The film is shot entirely in black and white, a harder medium to tell a film story with its various shades and shadows and visual limitations. The subtitles are a bit too abridged in parts (much like the translation of the Tausug dialog in Halaw) but they get the feelings across. Non-actors were used in most of the roles and it shows in some parts. There were a few sound issues, but nothing too major.

Although a bit short and not as tightly plotted, this is an interesting film to spend time with, especially if you are familiar with the culture. If not, some of the events in the film may seem alien.

Metaphor style rating: like waiting for the sunset, or spending time in the shower thinking of the mysteries of the universe.


New Breed Films


The Animals


What the Cynic in Me Expected: OMG mom I hate youuuu I wanted a Jaguar and you gave me a Ferrari!!! WORST BIRTHDAY EVERRRR
What Actually Happened: a unique viewpoint of today's generation from the point of view of upper middle class kids. Also, if this is our youth today, I'm getting a vasectomy. haha.

The Animals is a day in the life of three kids from affluent families: Albie Casino (no idea how to describe this guy), his klepto girlfriend, and her younger pot smoking frat joining brother. Aside from the usual high school hangups, relationships, entrance exams to the college of their choice, etcetera, everyone has his or her own teen issues in life. Everyone's stoked about the big party tonight, where everyone wants to drink some shit and get wasted. Shit then hits the fan fast after that.

We haven't seen something like this in Philippine Cinema since Batch '81 (bar a few forgettable sanitized teenybopper films.) But this film is unique in that it captures the shallowness and ennui of today's youth from a representative of the youth, not an observer from another generation. It's a fresh perspective that films in this festival, and films in general, rarely capture.

When asked why he is joining a fraternity and subjecting himself to useless abuse, one character answers, "wala lang, trip trip lang." Partly due to absentee parenting, a disconnect between children and parents, or as products of today's hollow society this generation is depicted as a lost one, buried in the throes of hedonism and momentary pleasures. Without guidance, they wander aimlessly through their youth, making rash decisions, trying to have a good time, or trying to belong. And ironically, perhaps back in their day the parents did these things too, albeit in a different way. Thus the sins of the parents trickle down into their kids.

There's a vibe I got when I watched this film similar to Larry Clark's films, like Kids and Ken Park, about teenagers basically going around doing stupid things. And there's one element that creeps into this film as it did in those films as well: none of the characters are really that sympathetic. In Kids for example, you really didn't want Telly to stop screwing around because you cared about his character, you wanted him to stop spreading STDs to some poor girls. In this case, I didn't really care about any of the characters, and whether they swam in their own vomit or not. I ended up watching the film to see who gets totally screwed up by the end, in a sort of morbid fascination.

Most telling, and probably my most favorite scene in the film, is when the family drivers of the main cast talk about how fucked up some of these kids are. Their jabs are frank and to the point, lamenting the senselessness of these kids' pursuits. And although by the end some seemingly get through scot free, there are consequences, perhaps most tellingly depicted in the last scenes. I don't think I'm the first and/or only guy to see some Gaspar Noe influences in some of those scenes (albeit not as well lighted in this movie's case.) Despite youthful feelings of invincibility, everybody's human, after all. The violence escalates and none of these guys are the same. I'm not really sure if that way is the way to go in this case, but in a weird sort of way it works.

There are some problems with the visuals, with some scenes not as clearly shot as others, as well as a few editing quibbles here and there. Otherwise the film isn't bad as far as first films go.

You will either like or hate this film. It depends on your own views on this generation and how you apply it to the film, as well as on how they resolved the story. But when all's said and done, I'm still looking for the definitive youth film for my generation.

Metaphor style rating: kicking your son in the balls. HARD.
Cinemalaya 2012: Qiyamah, The Animals


During the penultimate day in the festival, a few surprises.


Cinemalaya ANI


Qiyamah (The Reckoning)


What the Cynic in Me Expected: sorry, I went into this one blind.
What actually happened: A short but interesting slice of life and culture among our brothers

in the south. Might I say the last slice of life, since it takes place at the end of the

world.

In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful:

I swear by the Day of Resurrection
And I swear by the reproaching soul [to the certainty of resurrection].
Does man think that We will not assemble his bones?
Yes. [We are] Able [even] to proportion his fingertips.
But man desires to continue in sin.
He asks, "When is the Day of Resurrection?"
So when vision is dazzled
And the moon darkens
And the sun and the moon are joined,
Man will say on that Day, "Where is the [place of] escape?"
No! There is no refuge.
To your Lord, that Day, is the [place of] permanence.
Man will be informed that Day of what he sent ahead and kept back.
Rather, man, against himself, will be a witness,
Even if he presents his excuses.


Translation of Surah Al-Qiyamah (The Resurrection), Chapter 75:1-15, Holy Qur'an

I had heard about this film only shortly before I would watch it. It goes something like

this. In a small rural community the sun suddenly rises in the west, which is a sign that

Judgement Day is near. We then follow the lives of the people in the community, especially a

family of three, as the hour nears.

Each member of the family has their own demons and regrets in life. The father was a former

rebel and/or killer. The mother eloped with this guy, bringing pain to her parents. As for

the kid, he is our untainted window into this world of last days.

There are a lot of films and stories about people dealing with the end, many featuring

dramatic holding of hands and Michael Bay theatrics with explosions in the background. Here,

the feeling is very subdued. The people, with their faith (or maybe due to something else),

seem to have accepted the inevitable, like there's going to be a sale on Tuesday. Some just

go on with their daily lives. But for many, past sins are reflected upon. "Did I do right?"

"Will the deeds I've done so far get me to heaven or hell?" and so on. Aside from the family

at the center of this film, other members of the community have their own issues to deal

with.

The film is shot entirely in black and white, a harder medium to tell a film story with its

various shades and shadows and visual limitations. The subtitles are a bit too abridged in

parts (much like the translation of the Tausug dialog in Halaw) but they get the feelings

across. Non-actors were used in most of the roles and it shows in some parts. There were a

few sound issues, but nothing too major.

Although a bit short and not as tightly plotted, this is an interesting film to spend time

with, especially if you are familiar with the culture. If not, some of the events in the film

may seem alien.

Metaphor style rating: like waiting for the sunset, or spending time in the shower thinking

of the mysteries of the universe.


New Breed Films


The Animals


What the Cynic in Me Expected: OMG mom I hate youuuu I wanted a Jaguar and you gave me a

Ferrari!!! WORST BIRTHDAY EVERRRR
What Actually Happened: a unique viewpoint of today's generation from the point of view of

upper middle class kids. Also, if this is our youth today, I'm getting a vasectomy. haha.

The Animals is a day in the life of three kids from affluent families: Albie Casino (no idea

how to describe this guy), his klepto girlfriend, and her younger pot smoking frat joining

brother. Aside from the usual high school hangups, relationships, entrance exams to the

college of their choice, etcetera, everyone has his or her own teen issues in life.

Everyone's stoked about the big party tonight, where everyone wants to drink some shit and

get wasted. Shit then hits the fan fast after that.

We haven't seen something like this in Philippine Cinema since Batch '81 (bar a few

forgettable sanitized teenybopper films.) But this film is unique in that it captures the

shallowness and ennui of today's youth from a representative of the youth, not an observer

from another generation. It's a fresh perspective that films in this festival, and films in

general, rarely capture.

When asked why he is joining a fraternity and subjecting himself to useless abuse, one

character answers, "wala lang, trip trip lang." Partly due to absentee parenting, a

disconnect between children and parents, or as products of today's hollow society this

generation is depicted as a lost one, buried in the throes of hedonism and momentary

pleasures. Without guidance, they wander aimlessly through their youth, making rash

decisions, trying to have a good time, or trying to belong. And ironically, perhaps back in

their day the parents did these things too, albeit in a different way. Thus the sins of the

parents trickle down into their kids.

There's a vibe I got when I watched this film similar to Larry Clark's films, like Kids and

Ken Park, about teenagers basically going around doing stupid things. And there's one element

that creeps into this film as it did in those films as well: none of the characters are

really that sympathetic. In Kids for example, you really didn't want Telly to stop screwing

around because you cared about his character, you wanted him to stop spreading STDs to some

poor girls. In this case, I didn't really care about any of the characters, and whether they

swam in their own vomit or not. I ended up watching the film to see who gets totally screwed

up by the end, in a sort of morbid fascination.

Most telling, and probably my most favorite scene in the film, is when the family drivers of

the main cast talk about how fucked up some of these kids are. Their jabs are frank and to

the point, lamenting the senselessness of these kids' pursuits. And although by the end some

seemingly get through scot free, there are consequences, perhaps most tellingly depicted in

the last scenes. I don't think I'm the first and/or only guy to see some Gaspar Noe

influences in some of those scenes (albeit not as well lighted in this movie's case.) The

violence escalates and none of these guys are the same. I'm not really sure if that way is

the way to go in this case, but in a weird sort of way it works.

There are some problems with the visuals, with some scenes not as clearly shot as others, as

well as a few editing quibbles here and there. Otherwise the film isn't bad as far as first

films go.

You will either like or hate this film. It depends on your own views on this generation and

how you apply it to the film, as well as on how they resolved the story. But when all's said

and done, I'm still looking for the definitive youth film for my generation.

Metaphor style rating: kicking your son in the balls. HARD.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Cinemalaya 2012: Aparisyon, Give up Tomorrow

Back again with some new stuff.


New Breed Films


Aparisyon
 
What the Cynic in Me Expected: Like Sister Act, without the singing, and more Martial-lawey
What Actually Happened: a finely acted tale on morality and faith, if just a bit ambiguous at the end.

Set in the the turbulent year of 1971, on the precipice of Martial Law, Aparisyon is the story of a cloister in the woods where a group of nuns, led by Mother Superior Ruth (Fides Cuyugan Asensio) devotes their entire lives in the service of God. As a setting, the place is sheltered and seemingly serene, an oasis separated from the outside world. We see the world we know only in newspaper snippets and radio broadcasts.

Sister Lourdes (Jodi Sta. Maria) is the latest addition to the order. She begins to settle in her new monastic lifestyle and she meets Sister Remy (Mylene Dizon), a nun who has recently taken her vows. Soon the events of the outside world start to creep into the sheltered walls of the cloister and a sudden, violent and tragic event shakes the lives of the order.

From this point on, Aparisyon turns into an intense drama where every emotion hides beneath the surface, every ounce of indignation boils beyond reach, likening itself to the people whose eyes, ears and mouths were covered during the events leading to Martial Law. Will they exchange their peace to involve themselves more with this alien, lawless, turbulent world?

But aside from the likely metaphors, Aparisyon can also be a movie about a dire test of faith. With their orderly lives, sheltered from the world, this event shatters that world, giving the nuns predicaments that test the core of their beliefs.

Quite appropriately, I had heard this program on the radio before watching the film: One's burdens are not burdens that a person cannot bear, the man on the radio said. People can stay away from sin not because they are afraid of doing so, but because their viewpoint on life leads them to decide not to. And in this film the moral dilemmas (and each of the 4 main character's solutions to them) define them as characters. Perhaps, also as archetypes of something?

The four members of the main cast convey their acting talents quite capably, and without it, the film would have been a lesser experience. The ending leaves a lot ambiguous in my view, leading us viewers to decide for ourselves how these tests and crises have affected the people involved.

This is an intense, brutal film, filled with emotional violence, yet conveyed in silences. The director of the film noted that this film was about silence, and its different forms. And this film seems to take that point and give each silence a different meaning: guilt, acceptance, love, determination, or turning to faith.

Give this one a try. It's a surprisingly good entry to this year's roster.

Metaphor style rating: it's like your significant lady other giving you THE LOOK. It looks innocuous, but you know the jig is up.


Cinemalaya Documentaries


Give Up Tomorrow

What the Cynic in Me Expected: I honestly had no expectations for this.
What Actually Happened: A true crime docu that stabs at the heart of the ailing Philippine justice system. A must watch.

I vaguely remember the Chiong Murder Case back in the nineties. Two sisters in Cebu were kidnapped, raped then killed by a number of unknown men. In the face of sheer public indignation, the police rounded up a number of suspects, among them Paco Larranaga. I remember seeing his face as he was being led to the court. I remember the cheap dramatization of the case with Nino Mulach as Larranaga.

I thought back then that he was guilty. But seeing this film made me realize that the world doesn't paint things as black and white as we see in the media.

Covering the years between his arrest, his trial and imprisonment, Give Up Tomorrow weaves a tale of corruption and injustice like a yarn spun straight out of Kafka's The Trial. In the face of intense negative public and media attention, and powerful backers on the side of the prosecution, this man and six others are sentenced to life in prison for their role in a crime they may not have committed. Interspersed are segments by the media regarding the case, some offering an objective viewpoint; others, not so much, most memorably Teddy Locsin Jr's advice to the convicted not to drop the soap.

Appeal after appeal comes, but the verdict is the same. During the trial, evidence that clearly exonerates the accused is dismissed; dubious testimony from others is considered set in stone. In the screening for this film, you can feel the indignation from the audience from every single wrongdoing that occurs.

This is no mere miscarriage of justice, it is an abortion, blades spinning, carving up and destroying the lives of these men who have not gained the chance at due process. One, on the other hand, could argue that maybe some of them did do the crime. But this film shows that it was never proven the proper way.

The film's title comes from an interview from Larranaga who has more or less accepted his fate to be imprisoned for a very long time (this was after he was sentenced to death, with a repeal of the death penalty reducing his sentence). He talks about living his everyday life for today, deciding that if he'd give up, he'd rather do so tomorrow.

Although screened in many film festivals abroad, this is the first time the film has ever been screened in the Philippines. This film needs to be seen by people, everywhere. And perhaps we can see this film not just as something that can help in the reopening of this case, but also a way to see how rotten our justice system has become. The scary thing about it? This can happen to anyone. Even you and me.

Metaphor Style Rating: Finding out your significant other is a serial killer.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Interlude: I AM THE BATMAN

Given the recent release of the Dark Knight Rises, I think it is a good time to look back on the trilogy that revived the franchise and gave it new life.

I'd heard about Christopher Nolan back when he made Memento, a wonderful little film that I still consider one of my favorite films of all time. He had a knack of devising inventive and unconventional plot structures, and making interesting characters. But other than that he didn't really make many notable films. There was, of course, a film called Insomnia with Robin Williams and Hilary Swank that gained critical acclaim, but not many people knew about it.

Meanwhile, the Batman franchise was as good as dead. The final nail in the coffin was the deplorable Batman and Robin, whose return to 60's camp and general corniness destroyed the franchise that had been built on decent Tim Burton movies. The jury is still out on whether Batman Forever was any better or worse.

So a new film was made in 2005, Batman Begins. It reboots the franchise and tells the story of how Batman got his chops. It's an interesting story with a lot of nods to the comic stories, and brilliant performances all around.

What got me was how dark the whole thing was. This wasn't the bombastic showy Batman of the first two films. This was Batman as how he should be. We were coming off films like X-Men or Spiderman, films that, despite the relative seriousness, were still fun adventures for the whole family.

Then came The Dark Knight, and that was one of the greatest movies ever. Using the Joker and Two Face as villains, this movie was a deconstruction of the hero genre, redefining what it truly means to be a hero. Along with it came a performance by Heath Ledger that is so intense, people remember it to this day. It wasn't just a good superhero film, it was a good film, period. It also adapted itself from stories considered to be Batman's finest, such as The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke. The ending is especially chilling, as it describes Batman as what he is: a silent protector, a symbol that can be anything Gotham's citizens want him to be.

Finally we come to the recent movie, The Dark Knight Rises. Based partially on the comic series on the same name, we see an older Bruce Wayne, now in hiding after the events of the previous movie. It takes a terrorist named Bane to get him to don the cape and cowl again, but doing so is not as easy as it may first seem.

In the interim, Nolan sharpened his skills by making Inception, another very accomplished film and one of the most fascinating films of the last decade. It was blockbuster, sure, it was also action. But it was very cerebral and didn't treat its audience like ADHD-riddled mooks.

The last film goes back to the themes in the first, examining Batman's reasons for being Batman. While not as accomplished as the second film, it does its job capably. Bane is like Batman's antithesis. Trained by the same man, his skills and intelligence are more than a match for the caped crusader, and in the comics he is the only villain to have "Broken the Bat."

Speaking of that, my first real introduction to Batman was during the Knightfall storyline, which involves Bane. So there's a bit of nostalgia for me in that regard, despite the movie Bane being quite different from the one in the comics.

In the end, these three movies earned a ton of money in the box office and critical praise that the previous quadrilogy never got. Now that the trilogy is over, here's to better adaptations of comics in the future. Superman, I'm looking at you...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cinemalaya 2012 Day 2: Diablo, Mga Dayo, Oros

Three New Breed Films today before I take a break for a week or so. Have fun and keep on watching...

Diablo

What the Cynic in Me Expected: Hippie Jesus saves the world through weed. No just kidding.
What Actually Happened: An interesting, albeit sometimes lacking, movie on faith, family ties, and anxieties.

Nana Lusing (Ama Quiambao) is the elderly mother of five sons. Although she once had a job selling stuff, she has since stopped working due to illness. She now lives alone in her quiet home. One by one we see her five sons, most of whom have varying professions: one is a miner, one is a soldier, one is a farmer, and one is a sleazy lowlife. The last son, Oscar, is some sort of religious cult member who kinda looks like Jesus.

Unable to sleep at night, listening to some weird religious program on the radio, the rest of the film depicts her life as she encounters her five sons again. Oh, and during those nights, a mysterious black figure appears in front of her.

There are lots of symbolic references to religion and what have you, and the overall message is pretty straightforward, although a lot of elements can be interpreted in many different ways. Nana Lusing has most of the spotlight in this film, and it comes along with a good performance by Ama Quiambao. Her mere presence changes the lives of the people around her, yet ironically her own unresolved issues bother her, and they manifest as apparitions and visions. Whether the visions are real or not depends on the viewer.

Oscar is an equally mysterious character. Lusing's youngest son walks barefoot, looks like popular depictions of Jesus, and carries around an oil lamp with mysterious powers. Although his appearances are sporadic, his actions and the events surrounding him enact change in the plot and characters.

While the buildup is nice enough, the ending feels a bit rushed and ties up many plot threads too quickly (or not at all.) Sometimes I get the feeling that the story could have been told in a much shorter time. Technically there were some issues with audio syncing but otherwise it was fine.

Diablo is just an OK movie. I probably enjoyed it more than I expected, which is at least good.

Metaphor style rating: imagine a cup of Yan Yans and not even halfway through you run out of dip.


Mga Dayo (Resident Aliens)

What The Cynic in Me Expected: an hour and a half of I WANNA GREEN CARD SO BAAAAAD
What Actually Happened: A very nuanced look at the lives of Filipino immigrants in Guam.

A lot of Filipinos live abroad. A great number of them live in the States and in its territories. With the promise of a better life and a better paying job, a lot of Filipinos try to get there.

This movie takes place in Guam, a place with flavors both American and Filipino. It shows a slice of the lives of three women: Alex, who plans to get married to get a green card before her impending return to the Philippines, Miriam, a former newspaper editor who just lost her job and is lost among a number of frivolous relationships, and Ella, a hard working hotel housekeeping supervisor who works to get her elderly mother in America.

While it seems at first that they would want citizenship and a life in a foreign land, not all of the girls are keen on staying there. There's a sense of longing for home in one of a characters, a sense of dissatisfaction in another, and for the other one, not so much a sense of staying there out of want, but out of need.

The Filipino communities portrayed in the film show that Filipinos are hardy and can live almost anywhere, as long as there is the promise of a better life. It also examines the various loopholes one can take in getting a green card in the States.

Although the plot is tight and doesn't drag (it's the shortest full length film in competition) there are some weird side plots that really don't go anywhere, most notably one that involves Ella's relative. The shortness of the plot does leave some things unresolved, but I think the film gave the message it wanted to give: that these three people have their own hopes and dreams regarding living abroad (or returning home.)

Technically there are no problems with the film. Guam looks great in these shots and I kind of want to visit there one day. The acting is superb, notably Ella's portrayal as this hardworking woman who only wants something better for her family. When she finally reaches the breaking point, the resulting scene is a fitting climax for the film.

I was a bit impressed with this film. I'd put it somewhere above middle ground in the movies I've seen so far.

Metaphor style rating: A trip to America 5 days long. Not long enough to really appreciate everything, but enough to get a general idea on what the place is about.


Oros

What the Cynic in me Expected: PO-VER-TEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
What Actually Happened: An interesting story, entertaining to boot and decently acted, but these "social commentary set in poverty" films are starting to get a bit cliched.

Makoy and Abet are brothers living in a poverty stricken area in Manila. Makoy holds an illegal gambling ring that sometimes involves holding fake wakes with unclaimed cadavers to be able to hold an sakla (a card game) operation.

There are a lot of interesting issues in this movie. The most important to me is poignantly stated by one of the characters somewhere in the first third of the film: that a new life is often harder to deal with than death. Death is death, but a new life is just another mouth to feed.

The illegality of the gambling operation is not lost on the main characters, but they gotta do what they gotta do. When asked by Abet if they could prop up a carinderia instead, Makoy answers him that no one in their house really knows how to cook and the notion is dismissed. The relatively big money adds to the appeal of the business, even though it is illegal. At the same time, this activity is condoned not only by goverment officials, but also by some members of the police - as long as they get a share. The system allows for corruption to seep in like a cancer and, unfortunately, we find it entrenched in a system that refuses to change.

It's money that makes the plot revolve -it is the need for money that propels the characters towards their decisions in life, and eventual ruin. Although we may look at the business as something that doesn't hurt anyone, it does - very subtly we see posters of missing people - people whose bodies can be used in such illegal operations. It's the dark side of what we see in the film, and once you realize it it is quite disturbing. The movie resolves with a taste of irony that shows this dark side, and although it is mostly implied, it is not a pretty picture.

The 'poverty porn' genre is getting a bit stale these recent years, and this year's festival has kind of toned it down a little. But a lot of the staples that we've seen in previous films are still there. While this film is good and entertaining, it doesn't offer a lot of new stuff as far as these films go. I still want to see something fresh from the genre, but I think it needs a rest for a few years.

Anyway, go and see this film. It's still worth the price of admission.

Metaphor style rating: Eating at your favorite restaurant everyday for two years. You like the food, and the food is delicious, but ordering the same food again and again takes its toll on your palate.