Friday, November 29, 2013

RED Quickie: Girls for Keeps

As Japan moves to the 21st century and beyond, traditional gender roles expressed in the statement Good Wife, Wise Mother are beginning to shift. More and more women in Japan are choosing careers over marriage, in part due to the shaky economy.

Girls for Keeps (the Japanese title is simply "Girl") is told through four interconnected stories about women in their thirties dealing with their role in society and what it means to be a girl. Kosaka (Michiko Kichise) is a single woman working at a stationery factory who is attracted to a guy 12 years her junior. Yukiko (Karina) works in a department store and faces a "thirtysomething" crisis as she mulls giving up her 'girly' tendencies and settle down with her boyfriend. Seiko (Kumiko Aso) is married but childless. At work, she deals with the difficulties of doing work in a male-dominated workplace. Takako (Yuka Itaya) is a single mom who tries to raise her young son by herself, taking the role of both mother and father.

Of course, a lot of this is told through gloss and pop songs and a few sappy dramatic moments. But the message of the movie is clear: be who you want to be, don't let anyone dictate who you should be, have a little fun sometimes. GIRL POWER!

It's a nice film that's worth a watch. Personally my little surprise came in the form of Rosa Kato, who plays a supporting character.

This is her first role since about 2011. Seriously I had a major crush on this lady before she left the industry because she got married and had a baby. (Now two.) Oh well.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Cinema One Originals: Kabisera

Kabisera begins with a dream sequence of a man and his family happily partaking in a meal together. Kabisera then ends with a real sequence of that same man and his family partaking in a meal together, but under heavily different circumstances. How we got from point A to point B is what Kabisera is all about.

Joel Torre plays Andres, a fisherman who discovers a bunch of drugs in a box. With the help of his friend (Art Acuna), they engage in the drug business. Shit inevitably hits the fan, and our protagonists find out that the drug trade isn't so easy.

There have been comparisons made between this film and another television show that deals with the business of selling drugs. The similarities, however, are superficial at best.

Kabisera (Tagalog for Capital), in this case, refers to the front and center place of the father on the dining room table. Andres only wants to keep his family together, despite all the horrible things that happen as a consequence of his actions. The concept of the "Kabisera" in the film's context could also be Andres wanting to make his home the capital or center of his life, both in terms of his family and his illegal business - and there he sits at the head of the table of his dining room, of his house, like a brazen dictator, firmly in control.

Bing Pimentel plays Dindin, Andres' wife. In contrast to the damsel in distress/voice of reason types that we see in these 'wife roles' we see a woman firmly beside her man, actively helping him advance his trade by giving advice.

Any semblance of this trade being a noble one is thrown out the window when we see the impact of this fledgling drug trade on the small town Andres lives in. Then again, perhaps none of the characters involved (much less, the audience) had any illusions about the true nature of selling drugs. The story spirals out of control as the PDEA (the drug enforcement agency) steps in and makes it harder for Andres and his partners to stay in the shadows, forcing our fisherman to make a choice that is in many respects a point of no return.

Kabisera utilizes a lot of darkly illuminated shots in some scenes and shots saturated by natural light in others. There are a lot of wide shots of the small town Andres lives in, a backdrop to his rise to power. In between those scenes, Andres has a house built for his daughter Ana (Meryll Soriano) against her wishes - a lear parallel to the drug empire he is slowly building.

By the film's end you see this family eating together, and thanks to your partaking in this journey with Andres, your reaction will be markedly different from same scene at the beginning of the film. I won't spoil it for you, as I recommend you watch it. It's a fine film, buoyed by some great performances.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cinema One Originals: Angustia

Angustia (Anguish) is a period film that tackles sin and redemption set in the early days of the Colonial Philippines. Alex Medina plays a young priest living in a small town deep in the province. He encounters an Agta (Michelle Smith) in the jungle who has been watching him and, thanks to a fortuitous sequence of events, has her live in his parish as a convert.

Angustia swims in symbolism from beginning to end; juxtaposing symbols of Christian faith with pagan rituals and symbolism. Although faith seems to abound in the picture, a divine presence at first seems absent in the face of the sins committed by some of the characters. The members of the clergy are supposed to be representative of the church, but here they are portrayed as only human, vulnerable and susceptible to the follies that all people face. The characters of Angustia seem to seek catharsis through divine intervention, but either do not find the salvation they seek, or attain it by their own efforts and experiences.

The film takes advantage of very lush visuals (although in some scenes there is a noticeable drop in video quality that I attribute to an equipment issue than anything else) and a sparse soundtrack.

Anguish itself manifests in the weaker second half, where the story shifts Medina's character to another place. The focus of the story is lost, and personally it would have been better if Medina had stayed where he was instead of moving somewhere else. (That would have created a small plothole character-wise but it could have been remedied). Sin catches up with the priest and redemption - either paid through death or sacrifice - is attained. Whether this is a personal kind of redemption or one that is connected with the divine is up to the viewer.

All in all Angustia is an uneven film that would have worked better had it focused more on its effective first act rather than a vaguely psychological horror-like second act.

Cinema One Originals: Alamat ni China Doll

Alamat ni China Doll, a collaboration between filmmakers Lav Diaz and Adolfo Alix, is like unraveling a story by hearing second hand accounts: you have a general impression of the story, then people start filling you in the details one by one until you get a hazy picture which may or may not be complete.

China Doll (Angelica Panganiban) is a woman who is hiding under the witness protection program along with her elderly grandmother (Anita Linda) for reasons that are initially not that clear. We then get snippets of her past with her NBI handler (Philip Salvador) and interviews with disgraced investigative journalist Perry Nanali (Cesar Montano). There are also scenes with a mysterious individual (Carlo Aquino) who may be connected with China Doll's past.

If you consider the film to be a puzzle that has you putting together the pieces to tell the story, it's not going to be rewarding if your aim is to get the complete picture; the pieces are incomplete and by the end, you are left wanting more. But whether intentionally ironic or not, knowing the truth is part of one of the issues the movie brings up - how important is unearthing the truth? Does it have to come at the cost of lives?

I was reminded of certain news reports of grisly crimes where news reporters focus, almost voyeur-like, into the suffering of either victims or the bereaved. I remember this uncontrolled zeal rearing its ugly head during the hostage situation at the Quirino Grandstand.

While the search for the truth is there, the actual truth is muddled in between lies and vague memories. We barely learn anything about China Doll herself; we see her caring for her mother but we see little else. We see nothing of the violent acts she is supposed to have been a part of, only the aftermath. We see nothing concrete about what happened to her with Salvador or Montano's characters - only hearsay. In the end, it leaves the viewer a bit disjointed.

Comparing this film to Alix's earlier effort, Porno, the latter film feels a bit more concrete. In theory this film has more of a sense of closure than Porno, since its storyline  (when rearranged in the right way) does not fade away unresolved like some of the three stories of Porno. But it sure seems that way, thanks to the way the story is restructured. The tale at the end is quite appropriate, however, and in a way it's a fitting end to the film. Again, your experience may vary.